Pope Killdragon

by Strand of Oaks

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Pitchfork 8.1

Timothy Showalter has a beard, an acoustic guitar, and a heartbreaking backstory-- on the surface, the confessional singer-songwriter start-up kit. But he'd prefer not to talk about his heavy history even if it would make you root for him. For one thing, he'd rather not relive some of the personal tragedy (a bad breakup, a house fire) that inspired his debut, Leave Ruin. But it also would obscure the otherworldly mythology he creates on Pope Killdragon, an astoundingly original twist on the loner-folk template.

He begins the mesmerizing "Sterling" like he's keeping an especially heavy secret, but Showalter is merely an observer and a confused one at that. If his lyrics are occasionally too loopy to pin down what it's "about," they're perfectly suited for an unreliable narrator trying to piece together lost time. In the darkly comic "Daniel's Blues", he inhabits Dan Aykroyd, racked with depression after the death of John Belushi. I won't spoil the ending, but it's by far the most pathos-laden song ever to recall the decision to take a role in Ghostbusters. Meanwhile, the spare "Alex Kona" is the stuff of Mastodon epics-- 12-foot monsters, sermons from the mount, mothers wailing in the streets-- and to drive that point home, it's immediately followed by "Giant's Despair", an honest-to-god doom-metal instrumental.

Those are the attention-grabbing tactics, but Pope Killdragon maintains these strange juxtapositions throughout: historical fact with whimsical fiction, a mournful delivery of absurd lyrics, an odd allure to the bifurcated sonics where synths sidle up with acoustic guitars. It's easy to envision the "next Bon Iver!" plaudits-- Showalter looks and sounds the part, but that would miss the deeper commonality. Auto-Tune, Gayngs, rolling spliffs with Rick Ross-- Justin Vernon has made the most of the spotlight by cutting against an image that requires him to continually hurt harder than others. Similarly, Pope Killdragon's playfulness and sense of humor allow it a broader range of emotion than the typical sadsack folkie. Showalter did a good deal of bloodletting on Leave Ruin, and now Strand of Oaks' horizons are limited only by his fantastical imagination.

— Ian Cohen, September 10, 2010


released November 19, 2010



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Strand of Oaks Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


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Track Name: Kill Dragon
Lately he hasn’t been listening to me
Lately he hasn’t been listening to me
I guess he’s a man and he’s meant to leave

Well I’m standing here right next to me
I’ve got no God who’s going to listen to me
What can I do, what can I do

So I pray the child’s prayer I was taught
As a little kid, before my head was stretched
Before my mother died, before my brother died
Before the plague, ruined my life

I’m going to change my prayer (3)
So Mary…(3)

Mary, Mary, Mary won’t you marry me
Mary, Mary, Mary won’t you marry me
And me and you and Jesus could be a family
Mary, Mary, Mary, if you’d marry me
Me and Jesus could play and do childlike things
Mary, Mary, Mary, if you’d marry me
Track Name: Sterling
I drank myself to sleep
Every night of last week
Then I walked to the Boscov’s store
To buy a case of Crazy Horse
I dreamt I stayed in the Sterling
In the same bed as Kennedy
Jackie and Johnny and Caroline would ride up the mainline
The last stop is Carbondale
Where John once found some Jermyn tail
And his Irish and Jermyn son had
Wrote a story called Kill Dragon
It was a huge hit in the youth group scene
Cause he pledged toward celibacy

I saw him coming…

This year I’m going to work on stability
This year I’m going to try and keep
My friends close to me
And I hope one day to have half as much
Of my grandpa’s integrity

I saw him coming…

I saw Kennedy, in the Hotel Sterling
He told me everything, that I knew we’d both been feeling
So we sat on the ledge and looked down toward the West end

That’s where I drank myself to sleep
Just to get some company

I saw him coming…
Track Name: Bonfire
My wife sits with me
Scorched earth, drying sheets
Little bit of land, not much heat
The suns been down for weeks
Keep me warm, keep me clean…

It’s just you and me…

Bonfires burn and the hills they glow with light
Children won’t care, if their mothers sleep tonight

We’re all alone here
We’re all that’s left here
So let’s stay here and be calm

Put down the phone, it hasn’t worked for years
I’ll get the water, and we’ll plant a garden

We’re all alone here
We’re all that’s left here
So let’s stay here and be calm

Its’ just you and me
Track Name: Alex Kona
Alex Kona was twelve feet tall
His mother got killed by bowling ball
As she skipped across the wooden lane
Two frames from a perfect game

Ten years past the bowling crash
Alex found a wooden shack
Showered in the post war moon
That’s where Alex began to bloom

As the children left Sunday school
In gas masks and body suits
The reverend spoke of god’s revenge
Would be coming down the mountain

And the ground shook
The mother’s cried
The giant loomed in the yellow sky

With a look of dreaded fear
With a staff of pine and coat of deer
The mother’s watched with worried ear’s
Alex just laughed and stroked his beard
He said….

No you don’t understand
What its like
Growing up here
Track Name: Daniel's Blues
Woke up early on Saturday
My tie was still on and my hat was
Resting on the bed post
Sunglasses lost in the sheets

Oh, who will I call
Chevy’s an ass and Gilda’s got a cold
I always took the fall
It didn’t matter then
Because John would always laugh
But he’s not laughing now

Rushed to call my agent on my Monday
I need new work to get my head out of this
It’s with a young kid named Murray
It’s a ghost flick but the hell with it

Oh, who will I call
Chevy’s an ass and Gilda’s got a cold
I always took the fall
It didn’t matter then
Because John would always laugh
But he’s not laughing now

I knew the guy he used to buy from
I may have even introduced them
He was a skinny guy from Brooklyn
Arms always full of women
So I decided to take my shotgun
And take a long walk to Brooklyn
I’d make him put the outfit on
And strap him into the chair

Then I stuffed everything in his mouth
Everything he was holding
I left him there to shout
I had an audition
And we have to, move on
Without our brother John
And everybody’s got to sing new songs
So Elwood, it’s time
To move on

Oh, who will I call
Chevy’s an ass and Gilda’s got a cold
I always took the fall
It didn’t matter then
Because John would always laugh
But he’s not laughing now
Track Name: Last to Swim
I lost all my teeth last night
And held them in my hand
Cavity filled and crumbling
It happens more than I understand
Then I understand

So I put them in a velvet poach
Carried them to the flumes
That’s’ where I ‘m meeting you
We used the steam as ropes
And climbed with the hot air

We can see so much clearer
Up here

When all the mosquitoes
Are lying at my window
My kids don’t know how to read
I’m going to write you a letter
Saying all the cities problems
Are coming after me

When the Wyoming Valley caves in
I’ll be the first in the river and the last to swim…
Track Name: Pope Killdragon
I keep on dreaming
Of the first time
I ever saw your face
The sun shone brightly
Silhouettes danced behind your shoulder blades
It was there that I knew
That I could lay my problems down
And you would listen to me

Then they told me to leave
Then they told me to leave
They called me obscene
Said that I couldn’t see you

But I know when you want someone
More than they need you
It only builds intrigue
There’s no better time
To long for pure things
The world is shame
The world should be ashamed

Every time I get this weight on my
Every time I get this lusting need
Every time I get these feelings
And I want it to be alright…
When you want it you know
There is one thing that I need

Oh my sweet Mary
Would you marry me
We could all do childlike things
Oh my sweet Mary

I just want it to be alright…

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