Empty Country, the project of musician Joseph D’Agostino (formerly Cymbals Eat Guitars), officially return today with the release of their second record, Empty Country II.

Few songwriters in the last ten-15 years have written so richly of America’s cultural decline as D’Agostino, the shock and awe of his country’s decaying psyche and moral abjection traced vividly across several albums as Cymbals Eat Guitars and now two as Empty Country. Even by those high standards, this latest nine-song collection feels especially ambitious, a lyrically dense set of character studies that enigmatically blur authorial voice and moral binaries, and render them against a backdrop of ecstatic (NOT euphoric) rock dynamics.

The biographical headlines will turn some heads – funded via Patreon; recorded with super-producer John Agnello at Mitch Easter’s studio – but for me they’re the least interesting things to cling to here. It’s been some time since i’ve connected so closely with music of the type that Empty Country play, so why this record now? I’ve seen ECII described elsewhere as emo-adjacent indie rock, shorthand I take mild objection to not least because I find what presently passes for emo as creative deadweight. And it doesn’t seem sufficient in capturing the imagination required to construct such a dense and labyrinthine set of lyrical motifs and memorable epigrammatic flourishes (where else might you find Goethe’s Erkönig as metaphor for the ongoing state-supported slaughter of American high school students?).

Still, removed from its genre codification, ’emotional rock’ isn’t an entirely inelegant way of understanding what Empty Country are reaching for. D’Agostino has detailed this record as him being ‘radically himself’ and there’s an unavoidable heart-on-sleeve testifying at the core of these songs. A shouting into the void. Or from the void. From the precipice, about The End, because it’s the last – only – thing left to do. ‘Erlking’ concludes with the simply breathtaking line, ‘It’s a little late to be afraid’, providing an indubitable axiom for our times as well as perfectly encapsulating the spirit of a Great American record that arrives at just the moment when such a concept is in its death throes. And so we have it, The Last Great American Record. Where an explosion and a star might be the same dreaded thing.Empty Country II is available digitally, on CD, a pink vinyl dbl LP (edition of 450) and as a deluxe pink vinyl dbl LP package containing a book and cassette of the written and audio version of D’Agostino’s short story, Basilisk, or: Pearl Practices Guitar and Hallucinates the Future (edition of 50). The latter is only available via the Tough Love online shop or Bandcamp.

Empty Country will perform a headline show at Oslo in London on November 21st. Tickets available here.

Buy/stream/download Empty Country II here