Before discussing one-man-band Emperor X’s second album, Central Hug/Friendarmy/Fractaldunes, let’s leap into the mind of his alter ego, nearly-26-year-old Chad Matheny, and share one of the more exciting experiences he has openhandedly offered in his Web log:
He pried open my canals with spring-loaded tweezers and inserted a teeny suction straw … and I began to hear the end of the world. Deafening sucking noises, thirsty slurps and glops. The straw sucked and sucked and sucked — and came out caked in a maroon, stinking goo. Dr. Grimes quickly dove in with the tweezers and pulled out a huge, pea-sized gob of old black toilet paper strung with bright orange wax … and I began to hear sounds in the high register I hadn’t heard in months! My own voice sounded unfamiliar, full-bodied, alive. His voice, a low baritone, tinkled with the timbre of a bell-and-organ-bellows full spectrum symphony.
Yes, a skilled writer can turn even a mundane activity like the removal of homemade earplugs into a literary work of art.
Matheny — raised in Jacksonville, Florida and now living in Brooklyn — is valuable as an artist because of his accessibility. There’s a certain charm to the guy who shares information about his recent crushes, doctor visits, desire to understand science, and love of Star Trek (not to mention his membership to both Friendster and MySpace). But most appealing is that this charm is what gives him grounds to base his music on.
On his sophomore effort, Matheny blends synth beats with lo-fi acoustics, just as he did on his full-length debut, Tectonic Membrane/Thin Strip on an Edgeless Platform, last year. Never straying from the sound that earned him a bit of praise, he arms himself with a voice like Built to Spill’s Doug Martsch and gives a stronger nod to early Modest Mouse than the obvious electronic-alt. fusion of the Postal Service. Much like his previous LP, which contained the dissonant Mouse sound-alike “Laminate Factory,” Central Hug offers new standout “Shut Shut Up,” a second track in the same vein that follows Matheny’s well-planned album format.
Much like Emperor X’s earlier work, Central Hug unfortunately gradually slows in both pace and energy after capturing the listener’s attention. That’s not to say there aren’t shrieks and soothing beats along the album’s eleven-track path. But as with any album that begins on its best note, it’s difficult to maintain consistency. Still, Central Hug shares some of the smart synth appeal that label mate Applied Communications offered on Africa Baby, Yeah Yeah Yeah. In a society where nerdiness is considered stylish to a cult base, I’d actually consider that quite a compliment.
On the other hand, this album was made when its creator’s ears were clogged with toilet paper.