20 for ’14: Strand of Oaks – Shut In

Part 12 of a 20 part rundown of my favourite tracks of last year

Strand of Oaks’ HEAL was the sound of a painfully inwardly focused songwriter exploding outwards and Shut In was moment where Timothy Showater emerging from the dark and blinking in the sunlight. “Now I just get loaded/never leave my house” he intones in the first verse, “it’s taken way too long/to figure this out.” With that realisation under his belt he moves onto a chorus which is as optimistic an ode to social hermits and borderline agoraphobics as you could ever hope to hear, “Know my name/know I mean it/it’s not as bad as it seems/and we try in our own way to get better/even if we’re alone.” The ringing piano chords that back him and the overly polite guitar line that follows almost lean towards bland Coldplay-style universality but it’s reigned in with a bedraggled guitar solo with the rough edges tripping into the red left on.

On Shut in Showater proved that this sort of widescreen pop number can be done without ungritting the teeth and coating everything in a sickly sheen and in doing so produced one of the years most wonderfully hopeful songs, the most redemptive note throughout the punishingly emotional HEAL. Where Showater goes from here, now he’s out of his shell and with the wounds that influenced HEAL presumably, well, healed, is anyone’s guess. Given how starkly brilliant the open-hearted standout tracks on HEAL sound it’s fair to say it’ll be worth following him wherever he may end up.