Fourth of July: Empty Moon

While it’s competent enough, Empty Moon is delivered largely with hardly a hint of emotion or alt-rock authenticity.

Fourth of July

Empty Moon

Label: High Dive
US Release Date: 2013-04-09
UK Release Date: Import

This is probably no fault of the band’s, but when I got the MP3s of Lawrence, Kansas-based folk rockers Fourth of July’s new and third album, Empty Moon, I received a surprise. I’ve never obtained files where the titles of the songs were delivered in ALL CAPS, also known as the Internet’s International Language of Screaming. It’s a bit strange, for if you were to listen to Empty Moon, you’d hear that these are lazy, jangly sounds delivered by a somewhat tight band enamoured with the sound of the Hold Steady filtered through a country lens and the subject of alcohol abuse (see the song “Drinking Binge”). Lead singer Brendan Hangauer has a voice that sounds like a cross between a bored David Lowery of Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven and an even slacker Stephen Malkmus -- not exactly the most affecting thing to listen to. So this isn’t exactly an excitable group. And that’s the real problem with Empty Moon: while it’s competent enough, the set is delivered largely with hardly a hint of emotion or alt-rock authenticity, and a great deal of the songs feel repetitive and reaching for some level of unattainable significance. Empty Moon even feels like a joke at times (see “Eskimo Brothers”), just one without a punch line in sight.

There’s some level of recycling on the album, as well: there’s a song called “Before Our Hearts Explode”, which happens to be the title of the group’s previous album -- not really egregious in and of itself, for Led Zeppelin pulled a similar trick with “Houses of the Holy”, but Fourth of July is no Led Zeppelin. So, Empty Moon sounds a little like a band that’s running out of ideas, one whose needle is close to hitting E. That said, the record isn’t a total wash-out. The horns used on the title track, while brief, are a nice touch. “Colorado”, with its pedal steel flourishes, is kind of appealing in a rather homely way, and it may be the best thing on Empty Moon. “Berlin” is a kind of enjoyable strum, too, even if it doesn’t sound like the album ender it is. And I suppose there’s a level of charm to some of these songs in a rather Generation X-esque, “I don’t care” kind of way, even though there’s nary a bridge or chord progression shift anywhere in sight (until you get to the choruses, at least) on most of this material that would really help make things more interesting. Basically, the record is filled with overlong songs that do very little: “The Cost” rambles on for nearly seven minutes and “Before Our Hearts Explode” hits the five minute mark and utterly misses as a song -- Hangauer’s voice practically disappears at times here. Maybe the album would get better if one were to increase his or her level of inebriation, as the band sounds like they’ve spent a great deal of time at the beer taps as a means of finding inspiration. Still, if you’re dead sober, the lopsided and rather sub-par Empty Moon only really offers up the fact that Fourth of July turn out to be a band, alas, hardly worth screaming about unless you’re already a dedicated follower.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.