ABOVE: BRENDAN HANGAUER OF EMPTY MOON. PHOTO COURTESY OF ERICA NORRIS
With a sparse four-chord progression and an arrangement that sounds torn from the I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning-era Bright Eyes catalogue—mournful, bare, intimate—singer-songwriter Brendan Hangauer makes his solo debut as Empty Moon with “75 Degrees.” The instrumentation gradually builds on itself, acoustic strums melding with the occasional crash of drums and cymbals, eventually giving way to a more dominant electric backing. Even the timbre of Hangauer’s voice and the way he spits his lyrics with a whine are reminiscent of a young Conor Oberst.
But the words are all Empty Moon. “75 Degrees” is Hangauer’s first release alongside Papercuts’ Jason Quever, having left his family, his home and his pop-rock outfit Fourth of July (which he fronts, performing alongside siblings Kelly and Patrick). “Where do you think we go when we leave?” he questions in the track. “Start all over again, rows of sharks’ teeth.” The song, which was inspired by his relocation from Kansas to Oakland, California, speaks to a profound homesickness and sense of detachment that come with a change of scenery. “I wanted it to have a very breezy California vibe to it, but also express how hard it is to leave your friends and family,” he explains. Hangauer takes whatever familiarity he can where he gets it—”It’s been 75 degrees every day now for weeks,” he hums. “It puts my mind at ease.” The leisurely pace marks a sharp departure from the energy of Fourth of July.
And while the Bright Eyes comparison is sonically apt, “75 Degrees” also resembles an early Mountain Goats track seen in slow-motion. Lyrics are spartan and effortlessly evocative. There is little ambiguity, but this doesn’t mean the track is heavy-handed. The tempo lingers a bit, as if Hangauer has paused to take in the scenery. It’s like a bildungsroman of the musical variety— songwriter leaves band, comes of age—and Empty Moon’s first effort heralds an exciting maturation to come.
EMPTY MOON’S THE SHARK LP WILL BE AVAILABLE NOVEMBER 4 ON HIGH DIVE RECORDS.