By Joel Francis
Fourth of July singer Brendan Hangauer appears on the cover of the Lawrence-based, indie quintet’s sophomore album seated next to a pretty blonde. Although she’s looking at him and leaning in, his arms are crossed and eyes stare straight ahead. The pair may be close in proximity, but they seem miles apart emotionally.
These are the times that Hangauer, his brothers Patrick and Kelly, and Brian and Brendan Costello — another pair of siblings — relive on Before Our Hearts Explode. Breaking up, as the saying goes, may be hard to do, but it has rarely sounded like this much fun.
The album opens with “Friend of a Friend,” the story of an ex-girlfriend’s rebound lover. Driven by acoustic guitar and organ and powered by a nimble electric guitar, it’s too bouncy to be bitter. The track sets the template for the next 40 minutes: an intimate survey of love’s rubble, via jangly guitars and slacker vocals. It’s Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks filtered through Camper Van Beethoven.
It’s also a ruse, albeit an effective one. Hangauer is broken and hurt but refuses to let his guard down. For every telling lyric such as “Don’t be so sure of things/not even wedding rings” or “you know you ruined us/when you slept with that little slut” there are a plethora of la-la-la or ooh-ooh-ooh choruses to mask the betrayal.
The facade breaks in only a couple places. “Song for Meghan,” the first ballad, arrives midway through the record. Hangauer’s unvarnished craving for an absent love resonates in Adrianne Verhoeven’s lovely vocal countermelody.
This is followed by “Moving On,” a song as caustic and cynical as anything by Elvis Costello. It also has a sweet undercurrent as Hangauer recalls brighter days. The same trumpet that amplified Hangauer’s longing on “Song for Meghan” now cuts through the track like a ray of sunlight forcing its way into a dark room through a crack in the shades.
Before Our Hearts Explode succeeds at having it both ways — a breakup record that provides the perfect accompaniment for playing Frisbee. Like all relationships it is never black and white. The good times are tucked alongside the most painful.