I had to write a paper for an English class a couple weeks ago about nostalgia and the idea of it being a hinderance to creative expression. In it, I claimed that using familiar themes and ideas in artistic expressions can be very appealing when paired with a unique presentation or some sort of interesting twist. I think that’s what draws me to the music of Emperor X. At surface level, Emperor X (real name Chad Matheny) is pretty standard folkish indie pop with witty lyrics. But Chad takes his entire project and creates a world around it, encompassing nationwide treasure hunting, busking, and shows in undetermined locations in front of handfuls of bewildered spectators.
Emperor X as a music project started in 1998 when Matheny stopped being a high school teacher and started being a musician with the release of his first album Joytaker’s Rakes/Stars on the Ceiling, Pleasantly Kneeling (the multi-part album names become sort of a theme). Since then, he’s been traveling the country on public transportation, often times with nothing more than an acoustic guitar, mini amplifier, and a megaphone to play for audiences in random towns. Along the way, Matheny has been hiding master tapes of his albums in geocaches and logging them on his website, where fans and unknowing adventurers can keep track of all the found “nodes” and unlock material for other fans.
Now eight albums in, Emperor X is ready to release his newest effort: Western Teleport. It follows the same pattern as previous EX releases, which is to say if feels spontaneous and haphazard while still being a thoughtful and cohesive album. The exciting thing about Western Teleport is how you get the sense that this whole thing was recorded in about 2 hours on a cheap boombox, like The Mountain Goats’ All Hail West Texas. But similar to that same album, or even some of the traits of the band WHY?, Emperor X’s lyrics and disposition are precise, like he’s been slaving over each intricacy of these songs for years. Western Teleport can safely be considered the culmination of his work to-date, almost a “Greatest Hits” album if it weren’t for the fact that every one of these songs is seeing CD or vinyl for the first time.