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Emperor X: Central Hug/Friendarmy/Fractal Dunes – CD Review

Emperor X: Central Hug/Friendarmy/Fractal Dunes CD cover art

Label: Discos Mariscos Records

Chad Matheny was probably one of those kids in school who didn’t quite fit in. It’s safe to say he probably liked music much different from the jocks or other normal kids. He may also have been one of those intellectual geniuses who always was writing stuff down and befuddling those around him. I say this because his latest record, Central Hug/Friendarmy/Fractal Dunes wears its freak flag proudly. Recording as Emperor X, Matheny takes what initially seems as a congested murk of eclectic sounds and straightens it all up into something weird yet charming.

There is no easy way to describe the album, which is a good thing in this day and age of prefabricated singers and songwriters. It starts off with “Right To the Rails,” an unabashed song heralding the glory of mass transit that frantically picks up steam and leads into the antagonistic “Shut Shut Up.” “The Citizens of Wichita” perfectly captivates the melancholy of midwestern angst in less than three minutes. A folksy exercise in playfulness is next with “Raytracer,” a delirious post-punk elegy that is the album’s finest moment. “Ainseley” is a fragile postcard that offers a small peek into Chad Matheny’s lovelorn world, sounding at times like Pavement playing Sebadoh songs with its sprawling crescendos and whimpering vocal harmonies. The quiet is broken with the punchy and crunchy “Edgeless,” a song that rocks and saves the album form falling into a cavernous black void of somberness. “Coast to Coast” closes things out in epic fashion, featuring a steel guitar throw down in the vein of early Galaxie 500.

Emperor X’s lies musically somewhere between Beck, Neutral Milk Hotel and Fad Gadget. His surreal music, nonlinear lyrics at times display relations to Bernard Sumner or Wayne Coyne, whilst vocals sometimes bare striking similarities to Stephen Malkmus or Dean Wareham. His songs are composed of freeform abstractions, wedged into sentences and placed nicely amidst a swirling backdrop of sounds. In much simpler words, this is an interesting, experimental album from an artist of great promise.

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