Music / Premieres
SheOak - SheOak
Words by Matt Thorley
Wednesday 15th July, 2020
On their debut EP, SheOak have crafted a collection of entrancing and ambitious psychedelic-folk that cathartically develops through lead singer Xadi Walsh’s journey of acceptance and growth from loss and pain.
Some of the most impactful and timeless relics of creativity have formed out of the ashes of hardship and pain. From Nick Drake’s intimate detailing of depression, to John Lennon’s therapeutic reflection on his mother’s passing on Plastic Ono Band all the way to David Bowie’s Blackstar, born on the precipice of its legendary creator's death. Albeit on a somewhat smaller scale, with She Oak’s debut EP another deeply relatable emotional phoenix rises. 

A driving force behind the project was the tragic passing of lead singer Xadi Walsh’s father, which in combination with the decay of our environment and derailing of our society led to the creation of the SheOak EP. What follows is an emotionally charged record, that even without its context, fills you with the hurt, doubt and hope that its creators have clearly experienced. 

The EP opens with SheOak putting their best foot forward, led by ‘Rainy Reminisce’ and ‘Awaken’, two of the most raw and emotionally compelling tracks on the release. On ‘Rainy Reminisce’, Walsh’s vocals sound both innocent and strained as they float through hazy, jangly riffs, amidst a deep cloudy mix that evokes the moods and sounds of slightly gothic 80’s dream pop acts like Echo and the Bunnymen and early The Cranberries. Or more recently, the space pop of Aussie contemporaries Zoe Fox and the Rocket Clocks and the hypnagogic sounds of Alvvays.

This initial grey-day window gazing reflection transforms into anger on ‘Awaken’. Backed by a blues stomp and some fiery guitar work, Walsh’s soaring vocals cut through with the pissed off confidence of 90’s alt-rockers Fiona Apple or PJ Harvey. The track builds with crashing drums and infuses strung-out psychedelic guitars leading to an explosive chorus where Walsh’s vocals are pushed to the limits. She’s undeniably mad, and the band does a fantastic job of getting this feeling through, allowing for a deep connection to be established with the listener.

Next up, ‘Fly to the Moon’ is an absolute standout. After an outpouring of sadness and anger, we arrive at a more peaceful destination, the track blending an ethereal atmosphere with classic romanticism, sounding like a Cocteau Twins produced Frank Sinatra track. The guitars are layered and coated in reverb, creating a dense and dreamlike atmosphere that perfectly pairs with her voice, which triumphantly soars above the instrumental for the most gorgeous chorus on the project. If the earlier tracks were marked by a sense of a despondence, ‘Fly to the Moon’ sees hints of optimism and light creeping in through the clouds.

As the EP heads towards the finish line, SheOak begin to lean into a more twee folk-infused direction, balancing their dreamier tendencies against their heavier alt-rock direction, without losing the impact of their heartbroken and emotional themes. Whilst less ambitious than its predecessors, ‘Eternally Whole’ is an anthemic piece of acoustic balladry that serves as a strong emotional culmination of all that we’ve heard before. Led by a soaring vocal performance, it acts as a beautiful celebration of life and overcoming the devastating and exhausting early stages of mourning and loss.

After this we move to ‘Sunshine’, a sun-tinged piece of dream-pop. The track revisits the earlier songs' psychedelic tones fusing them with Americana and folk guitar work to create the fantasy forest atmosphere presented on the project's cover. Lyrically the track focuses on empowerment and an ability to better recognise the light once you’ve seen the dark, as the streams of light that crept through the clouds earlier in the project are replaced by bright skies. 

With almost every song running over five minutes long, the collection of tracks on SheOak are allowed plenty of time to breathe, which the band use to their strength as they establish a uniquely dreamy psychedelic-folk sound. If some of these extended sections may become a little more challenging as the EP progresses, the band more than make up for it when the soundscapes eventually erupt once again to reveal their beautifully emotive vocal performances, tight jangly guitars and a distinctly ethereal atmosphere, backed by some fantastically catchy choruses. Despite being comprised of only five songs, SheOak’s debut skilfully manages to journey through both grief, acceptance and the last 20 years of alternative rock music - and as the EP’s closing track ‘Sunshine’ implies, the best thing to do is embrace it.

Listen to SheOak above, and keep up to date with the band by following them below.