BioWhen Discos Mariscos released Emperor X (Chad Matheny)’s Tectonic Membrane / Thin Strip on an Edgeless Platform last year, the disc caught many critics and listeners off guard. Tectonic... debuted as #7 Most Added on CMJ’s new music charts, and garnered widespread praise from influential publications like PopMatters, Pitchfork Media, and All Music Guide. Two U.S. tours and a growing internet following brought more acclaim in the college town coffee shops and blogger circles of 21st century indie rock. The consensus? Emperor X seemed able to fuse disparate, non-poetic elements in our world (Friendster, termite insurance policies, and garbage chutes, to name a few) into a glittering sonic miasma that left few who heard uncharmed.
Central Hug / Friendarmy / Fractaldunes, the latest Emperor X offering, makes liberal use of the same disarming lyrical technology that made Tectonic... a success- and expands on it. The strong yearning to drive (Matheny has impaired vision and cannot legally operate a vehicle), a secret crush during a stint as a high school chemistry teacher, an obsession with rapid transit, and sociopathic misadventures with friends who break into abandoned hotels and try to fly each other on a giant kite in the middle of a hurricane are only a few of the topics covered here. This mad delerium of subjects creates a captivating lyrical backdrop for an album steeped as much in inspired storytelling as it is in playful sound experimentation.
Channeling musical influences from New Order to Lou Barlow, from Fad Gadget to Guided by Voices, Matheny merges the plinking scrapes of a classic lo-fi crooner with the odd beauty of thrift store electronics and friendly southen weirdness. Central Hug... is a well-structured kaleidoscope of musical and thematic territory, ranging from a skronk-and-shout anthem about rapid transit (“Right to the Rails”), to a frazzled club mix epic about the health risks of radiation-spewing computer monitors at temp jobs (“Sfearion”), to the downcast, stomp-and-dirge energy of the echoey post-folk diatribe “Raytracer” and the fragile, lovelorn “Ainseley”. Dipping its hand in folk, experimental rock, electronica, pop, and straight up dance music, Central Hug / Friendarmy / Fractaldunes is a joyous romp through a bewildering labyrinth of missives, love letters, and eardrum-battering soundquakes. Matheny can make us cheer, cringe or cry, but he couldn’t bore us if he tried.