Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Emperor X

  • Central Hug/Friendarmy/Fractal Dunes [self-released, 2005] *
  • Western Teleport [Bar/None, 2011] A-
  • The Orlando Sentinel [self-released, 2014] B+
  • Oversleepers International [Tiny Engines, 2017] A-
  • Nineteen Live Recordings [Bandcamp, 2020] **
  • The Lakes of Zones B and C [Dreams of Field, 2022] A

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Central Hug/Friendarmy/Fractal Dunes [self-released, 2005]
Assuming this 2005 "release" is a triple-"EP," the four-song Central Hug is all-A and the other two pretty duddy--winningly unkempt political songcraft fronting losingly strummed-droned songcraft ("The Citizens of Wichita," "Raytracer") *

Western Teleport [Bar/None, 2011]
Lapsed science teacher Chad Matheny specialized in electro-noise until he figured out how chords and beats work, enabling him to put together a futuristic folk music in which nerdy melodies rise out of a shambolic clatter that's the best anyone can expect with the power going out all the time. The opening "Erica Western Teleport" and the closing "Erica Western Geiger Counter" celebrate his crush on a rebel hero who scopes corporatist disaster areas where dystopian sci-fi is indistinguishable from democratic-socialist realism. In "Compressor Repair" he wishes he could fix the ecologically incorrect air conditioner of a girl who deserves to be cool. "Allahu Akbar" establishes his material solidarity with the strugglers of Tahrir Square. A-

The Orlando Sentinel [self-released, 2014]
In 2014, a testicular cancer survivor constructs weedy-to-wispy electronic/guitar-strum/handclap songs about getting your parents Medicaid and cell plans, President Sarkozy's bake sale, AI swim laws (??), Kafka shopping at Primark, dying young with resources and integrity intact, and just generally proving the Politburo right because we've got all this capital and what good does it do anyone? I wouldn't say he sounds happy about this, or much amused. But he is philosophical, because after all: "One good effect of the crash / Now every altered state gets classified as work--at least enough to prevent an epidemic of a baseless adolescent philosophy." Which scans, in its way. B+

Oversleepers International [Tiny Engines, 2017]
Pushing 40 now, Berlin-based Jacksonville native Chad Matheny makes his living as a musician on tours that I assume include residencies--among his many Bandcamp wares is a commissioned work entitled 10,000-Year Earworm to Discourage Habitation Near Nuclear Waste Depositories. But although all his music comes with clean, computer-crafted abstract art, he comes naturally to a frugal, tech-savvy ecology-firster's skepticism of physical product. No surprise then that this is his first actual CD since Bar/None's 2011 Western Teleport--one so obscure or perversely coded it didn't show up on Gracenote when I imported it into my iTunes. Yet it would seem that he does regard physicals as special, because nowhere else does the music feature songs end-to-end instead of sucking you in with a handful and then dematerializing into strummed or noodled jams with vocal accoutrements. True, this one achieves a third of its 50-minute length by means of a quarter-hour of subliminal electropulse at the end of a closer called "5-Hour Energy, Poland, 2017" as well as bridging its halves with what is essentially a four-minute vamp. Nevertheless, the 10 songs are songs. All evoke a hard-scrabbling world traveler often caught in but never daunted by border hassles, medical bureaucracy, and crap technology. Bergson and Schopenhauer also come up. Yet amid riots and dodgy bank accounts, Matheny sounds about as chipper as a working musician on a deteriorating planet can. In fact, the whole thing is quite an up if you give it half a chance. A-

Nineteen Live Recordings [Bandcamp, 2020]
Reissued seven-year-old 19-song miscellany with liner notes that deserve a Grammy, so go read 'em and see if they don't make you want to buy the music ("Laminate Factory," "Compressor Repair," "Island-Long Dirt Dealership") **

The Lakes of Zones B and C [Dreams of Field, 2022]
Over the ever-lengthening years Chad Matheny has carved out a principled DIY career for himself, and at some level he's proud of it. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean the world has stopped coming to an end. And it also doesn't mean that he's as inclined as he once was to keep up the good fight. Here there's a sun-powered GPS, there DHL losing your furniture, here a hummingbird better equipped to weather the storm than we are, there sketchy Syrian punks who haven't figured out how fucked they are. So if "Our lack of certainty is no excuse for nihilistic dread," well, in addition there's "no need to give ourselves a hernia/The real heavy lifting's for the young." Musically, Matheny has never been more sure-footed, but spiritually he's in a bind. So am I, and quite possibly you. A disturbing record. A