Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
It's your subconscious talking. Well, it's someone's subconscious talking when you're hearing an Emperor X song and most of the time it's that of singer and songwriter Chad Matheny, a young man from North Carolina who seems as if he might no a thing or two about what 100-percent agitation might feel like. We're talking about someone who might be able to describe for you in rich detail the ins and outs of what it feels like to have boiling blood and jittery, jittery hands. He's someone who is so unbelievably jumpy that we worry about him though it's never been our place or responsibility to do so. He sounds like the kind of fellow who might be overly worried about this egg recall that we're living through right now, wondering if there's any reason to be concerned about those scrambled ones he had this morning and he's the kind of fellow that believes in the validity of a good, cold sweat. Oh, he's not a head case at all, he just has a lot on his mind and his way of expressing the issues that he's dealing with is by turning them into these sensitive numbers that he performs solo, with a gentle touch of foggy reverb to give them the space and coolness of an emotionless empty room, those walls that just stare back at him as he's wondering why he's freaking out, why he's there, wondering why he cares. The world that comes into focus on the often rapidly strummed Emperor X songs is one that is filled with consistencies in the fields of paranoia and dislocation - feeling set apart from a proper grounding. It's a world of asthma and allergies and the protagonist that he voices is a man flying around like a fly trapped in a house, banging haphazardly against closed windows, getting more and more scared with each lump as it seems that there's no escaping. It's a place where bees and pesticides, the quality of the drinking water, terrorists, wire-tapping, etc. are all real fears - constant fears. There might even be a fear of eternal damnation in there somewhere as well, though that might take the needles into the red if the subject's breached. That would be too much. Matheny traverses some similar pathways that John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats has crossed over with his many records, but he takes more of an absurdist approach, a la Destroyer's Dan Bejar, with his lyricism, instead of relying on the strained pain and interactions of Darnielle's troubled male and female characters. He allows himself the opportunity to throw lines like, "Our quarterbacks can't move those chains, go Seahawks." On a song like "Go Captain And Pinlighter," and seconds or a song later, he's singing about al-Qaeda or a certain blue shirt that he might wear to a friend named Matt's wedding. Then he shouts - an outburst - and settles back down to talk about breaking a table with a hammer. Just stand back and listen.