The Dead Oceans debut from Goshen, Indiana-based songwriter Timothy Showalter, better known by his plant-based alias Strand of Oaks, Heal arrives after a period of personal tumult and self-reflection, and its ten tracks spend a considerable amount of time exploring its author's formative years, referencing everything from plastic Casio keyboards and "Singing Pumpkins in the mirror" to lost loves, skinny dipping, and the enduring works of the late Jason Molina, who is properly eulogized on the epic, Crazy Horse-kissed "JM." Musically, Showalter draws from the same pool of familiar sounds as fellow neo-classic rock/overshare pop artists like the War on Drugs, Phosphorescent, the Low Anthem, and My Morning Jacket -- J. Mascis sits in on lead guitar on the blistering, appropriately titled opener "Goshen 97" -- but he's got a flair for electro-pop as well, even if songs like "Same Emotions" and the propulsive title cut sound like they should be followed up by a quick Casey Kasem recap. Okkervil River's Will Sheff mined a similar vein of nostalgia on 2013's The Silver Gymnasium, pairing high school memories with richly detailed retro-pop, but Showalter's take on the past is a bit more raw and unhinged. Songs like "Woke Up to the Light," with its seemingly innocuous Alphaville "Forever Young"-inspired foundation and the churning "Mirage Year," the latter of which explodes into a full-on sonic assault that sounds like it must have taken weeks to clean up after, present themselves as measured and somewhat even-tempered, but like the majority of Heal, they're barely contained time capsules on the verge of catharsis, and whatever beauty they possess will ultimately burn up upon re-entry.
AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger