Empty Country - Empty Country Music Album Reviews

Former Cymbals Eat Guitars frontman Joseph D’Agostino’s solo debut is rangier and more intimate than his former band, but taps similar wells of grief and pain.

For a band that spent four albums fixating on demises, Cymbals Eat Guitars didn’t dwell too much on their own. The New Jersey indie rock band quietly confirmed their breakup after the fact, nearly two years after a trio of 2017 hometown farewell shows they hadn’t announced as such. The end came, in large part, out of recognition they’d hit their ceiling. After years of playing to shrinking crowds, the band once hyped as indie rock’s next big thing realized “there was nowhere else for us to go,” as frontman Joseph D’Agostino tells it.

Even Cymbals Eat Guitars’ small cult of devotees would have a hard time arguing with that. They were a great band, but a niche one, their music too sour and anxious to sit alongside The National or Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros on one of Barack Obama’s playlists. They could conjure the rousing, go-for-broke sweep of Springsteen or The Clash, but where those artists’ big songs played liked triumphs, theirs sounded like panic attacks. Between D’Agostino’s squalid storytelling and shell-shocked voice, nobody was going to license a Cymbals Eat Guitars song for a car commercial.

If there’s an upside to the band’s breakup, though, it’s that anything D’Agostino records is going to sound at least a little like Cymbals Eat Guitars, and so it is with the debut from his solo project Empty Country. Patched together with a lineup of friends and family, the self-titled record really isn’t much further removed from Cymbal Eat Guitars than any of that band’s albums were from their predecessors. It thunders a little less and wanders a little more, and although the arrangements are still dense and twisty, they clear room for chiming acoustic guitars, bright pedal steels and occasional strings. The album is vaguely indebted to Americana, but it’s a tourist’s fascination with country, not an aficionado’s.

And D’Agostino’s driving muse, as if the cemetery on the album cover left any doubt, remains death. The glimmering “Marian” opens the record with a half-hopeful song about a 1960s miner who has a vision of his own death in a mine collapse, then foresees his daughter’s adulthood. Queasy and distressed even by Cymbals Eat Guitars’ standards, “Ultrasound” documents an anguished week waiting for his wife’s biopsy results: “Body horror, pace the hall, waiting for the morning call/We tried to sleep, we’re spinning ’round, a shadow on an ultrasound,” D’Agostino sings, sounding near hyperventilation over nerve-racking distortion.

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The sweeter the music becomes, the nastier the subject matter turns. Behind its uptempo strum and dulcet strings, the album’s jauntiest number “Becca” is essentially a horror story, a tale of a woman who tricks families into staring at the solar eclipse by handing out fake eclipse glasses. It ends on a note of sheer terror, as its narrative turns to her victims: “Waking in the darkness to their crying kids, feeling for the light switch, they will hear the ocean.” The album’s other great character sketch, the twangy “SWIM,” imagines a Sing Sing prisoner with an especially nihilistic tattoo on his rib cage “of the second plane hitting.” With some reluctance, he concedes his black-out behavior might have hurt someone, and while the character is fictitious, the song’s protest-too-much title (an acronym for “Someone Who Isn’t Me”) makes it clear D’Angelo sees at least a little of himself in his creation.

If Empty Country is a shade less wondrous than Cymbals Eat Guitars’ final records, that’s more feature than defect. Those albums were grand statements, designed to resonate with a vast audience, even if that audience didn’t actually exist. What Empty Country lacks in wild swings for the bleachers, though, it makes up for with a rangy intimacy that buys it a different sort of goodwill. “Come and live it down with me,” D’Agostino beckons on the serene, string-kissed coda to “SWIM.” It’s unclear whether that’s an invite to find redemption or to join him in the slums, but it speaks to how sublime the music is that he makes either proposition sound alluring.


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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Empty Country - Empty Country Music Album Reviews Empty Country - Empty Country Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Tuesday, March 31, 2020 Rating:

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