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CD of The Week

Week of 2/20/17

    Strand of Oaks - Hard Love (Dead Oceans)

    Philadelphia resident Tim Showalter’s musical alias Strand of Oaks took a major leap from the folk-rock of his earliest releases to wide-screen indie rock on 2014’s HEAL. After boosting his profile with the critically acclaimed record, he’s back with another raw, introspective album with the amps cranked up all around the emotion.

    Our first taste of Hard Love was the amazing “Radio Kids,” one of the best songs thus far in 2017. Hat-tip to Stereogum for perfectly describing its sound as Dinosaur Jr.-meets-Ryan Adams. Showalter pines for the nostalgia of growing up listening to the radio, wistfully remembering when “I had my headphones on and my parents’ll never know.” However, “Radio Kids” stops short of being a complete romanticizing of the past when he notes that “Now it’s just kids repeating / Maybe I’m as bad as them.”

    As for those radio songs he grew up on, the influence is most obvious on “Everything,” full of grunge-era feedback and Nirvana melodies, right down to the hint of Kurt Cobain in Showalter’s voice.

    In recent interviews, Showalter has said the songs on Hard Love were inspired by some rocky times with his wife (the title track), the wild life while touring behind HEAL (“On the Hill”) and a health scare from his brother Jon, who spent two weeks unconscious in a hospital in 2015 (“Taking Acid and Talking to My Brother”). Hard Love is dedicated to his brother as well. Other highlights of the album are the mournful, plaintive piano tune “Cry” and “Rest of It,” a joyful, blazing rocker that sounds like My Morning Jacket playing in of classic bar band.

    Hard Love finds Showalter experiencing a catharsis while wearing his heart on his sleeve and in his music. Join the radio kids at Strand of Oaks’ hometown show at Union Transfer on March 10th.

    **Donate $20 or more to Y-Not Radio this week to receive a copy of Hard Love. Click here for details.
    Review by Joey O.


    The Orwells - Terrible Human Beings (Canvasback / Atlantic)

    When deciding on an album title, sometimes it seems most artists throw darts and see what happens. Few derive a name from the overall tone of the album, but that's what The Orwells have done with Terrible Human Beings.

    The album opens with "They Put a Body in the Bayou," which immediately inspires dark and ominous imagery. According to guitarist Matt O'Keefe, the song was the first one selected for the album and created the blueprint for what the entire album would include. It borrows musical elements from arguably the band's biggest influence, Pixies, while singing of coke noses and good guys coming in last. The Pixies homage comes to a head in "Black Francis," a song the band claims is written for Charles Thompson IV himself. Clearly the most Pixie-esque song on the album, it adopts melodies which could fit alongside most tracks from Doolittle.

    Featuring songs like "Vacation" and "Last Call (Go Home)," the album continues to paint pictures of the seedy underbelly of society. "Heavy Heart" tells the story of man duct taped in a van being tortured, who tells his captors to take him to the desert and chop off his heavy head and deliver it to his mother in an Easter basket. As the most gruesome story on the album, it is in the company of alcoholics, drug addicts, and estranged family members/friends.

    Individually these would each be a tough pill to swallow, but this album proves the old adage that misery loves company. Mario Cuomo's lyrics are tragic but not self-referential, and his vocals provide a sense of warmth overtop the band's wailing guitar solos and driving melodies.

    The Orwells return to Philadelphia at Union Transfer on May 26th.

    **Donate $20 or more to Y-Not Radio this week to receive a copy of Terrible Human Beings. Click here for details.
    Review by Dan Baker

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