Emperor X
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Emperor X

Los Angeles, California, United States | MAJOR

Los Angeles, California, United States | MAJOR
Band Alternative Pop


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Emperor X @ Blue Nile

Harrisonburg, Virginia, USA

Harrisonburg, Virginia, USA

Emperor X @ Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar

Charlottesville, Virginia, USA

Charlottesville, Virginia, USA

Emperor X @ The Bazaar

Roanoke, Virginia, USA

Roanoke, Virginia, USA



Chad Matheny is a toddler among boys. The world of lo-fi pop is already rife with contrived boyishness and adolescent sophistry, but with Tectonic Membrane/Thin Strip on an Edgeless Platform, Matheny has lowered the bar to a near-unlimboable level. Emperor X, the ominous-sounding alias behind the Gainesville, FL singer/songwriter's giddy pop alchemy, is merely a feeble façade. The real Matheny is a devout homebody, and his story runs like so: Born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1979, Matheny was tinkering with an SK-1 sampling keyboard, given to him by his grandparents, at age nine, and with a little help from his pawn-shop-patronizing dad, he recorded his first album on a Tascam four-track before turning 20. In fact, throughout his congenital musical career, Matheny's family has played an integral role, and it shows: Tectonic Membrane/Thin Strip on an Edgeless Platform is one of the most winsome and charmingly diminutive lo-fi records of the moment, weaving a sturdy matrix of reliable pop nuggets.

While Tectonic Membrane embodies and relishes the four-track aesthetic, Matheny's compositions are deceptively complex. Listen carefully and you'll hear intricate overdubbing and a bevy of digital affectations, ranging from retro synths to more up-to-date pedals and tinker toys. The 8\xBD-minute "Intracellular" is flooded in amorphous guitar peals and keyboard swells, and would feel right at home amongst the work of similarly lo-fi process artists or latter-day Black Dice. In spite of his sly technological sophistication, however, Matheny maintains an air of trembling innocence throughout the record, which dabbles in divergent styles and moods. Surprisingly, these songs' oft tenuous resolutions and child-like lack of focus are seldom as irksome as they seem on paper, and generally enhance Emperor X's ingratiating aesthetic.

Appropriately, opener "Exterminata Beat" is the most immediately engaging track. Propelled by a motorik pop beat, Matheny turns in a demure vocal performance and an irrepressible distorted Rhodes harmony, before the mix abruptly cuts off and an audibly conducted choral segue fades in. It's a discomfiting juxtaposition at first, but as Emperor X's ambitions become clearer, the move seems more and more appropriate. "Laminate Factory", which features a serpentine vocal melody over jagged acoustic strumming, clarifies things somewhat, but it's not until "Bashling" that Tectonic Membrane solidifies its standing as a handsomely potluck gem. Indebted to an array of shoegazer outfits-- particularly Yo La Tengo in its rising, tremolo-laden guitars-- the song adds some gravity to this occasionally flighty collection.

Matheny is an unabashedly wanting singer, and while some may see that as part of his appeal, it occasionally edges on bothersome. "Filene's Basement" is most off-putting in its cryptic narrative and clunky delivery, but fortunately, the song skirts by in under two minutes, and its effect on the flow of the album is negligible at worst. Elsewhere, "Unworthiness Drones" is a directionless rhythmic experiment that does hamper the momentum slightly, especially when it arbitrarily tails off after a bout of spasmodic stuttering.

Luckily, such miscues keep a relatively low profile, and the preponderance of enduring melodies is a formidable saving grace. Most will agree that the last thing underground music needs is more Phil Elvrum wanna-bes and lo-fi dilettantes, which is why Chad Matheny's efforts are so impressive. Constantly battling the odds and winning, Tectonic Membrane is an easy album to champion, and a refreshing show for a floundering genre.

— Sam Ubl, July 1, 2004 - Pitchfork

Musicians are always looking for new ways to put their music out into the world, but few are as literal about it as Chad Matheny. The L.A.-based singer-songwriter has been recording albums under the name Emperor X for more than a decade. Now, Matheny has started burying his releases in the ground and asking fans to go out and find them.

Matheny is recording himself on a handheld tape recorder. It's a song that might never be heard again. Two things would prevent you from ever hearing it: The first is that, when he's done, Matheny is going to bury the tape in the ground; the second is that no one may ever find it.

Matheny walks to a rock, drops to his knees and starts scratching at the dirt — apparently, he hasn't brought a shovel.

"Ha, there it is," he says. "So if someone just casually comes up to the rock, they won't notice anything, but down a half-inch, it's right there."

Emperor X's "Cache" In Brooklyn
[2 min 28 sec]
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In a few weeks, Matheny will post the tape's GPS coordinates to his website, and then hope that someone will go dig it up. Whoever finds it gets to keep the tape, which also comes with a secret code that will unlock more music on his website for the rest of the world to hear. He says that these recordings are mostly half-formed song ideas — it's his music in its earliest stage.

"That's what I'm doing when I bury these things," Matheny says. "I bury the whole creative process and leaving it out there if they want it. People don't usually get to hear that."

Those who do follow Matheny's music career know him better as Emperor X, a one-man band that's been making spacey, lo-fi indie-folk since the late 1990s.

Though he's never made it big, Emperor X has gained a following. He's also caught the attention of critics, among them Chris Dahlen, who writes for the online magazine Pitchfork.

"It would be hard to guess why he's not more successful. He's definitely gotten rave reviews of his albums, he tours really hard and he does a lot to get out there," Dahlen says. "He didn't make it big for the reason millions of really interesting musicians don't make it big. Whatever combination of things, and in spite of his hard work, it just hasn't broken through."

A New Way To Listen

So if you're a musician who's been getting good press for years, but has never been able to graduate from the underground music scene, what do you do? If you're Emperor X, you find a new way of enticing people to hear your music; thus, the whole cassette-tape-burial thing.

Dahlen buys it. He says that, in an age where any kind of music you could ever want is just a mouse-click away, this is the perfect way to recapture the adventure of trying to track down an artist no one has ever heard of.

"He's creating an experience that really fits his music, and what it is is that he's an underground musician," Dahlen says. "Back in the day, there'd always be that artist that you were in love with. You had to find all their albums, but they were really unknown, and you would go to used record store after used record store trying to track them down. And then, finally, you find one of their albums in the bin, and you love it more because of all the effort you put into it. You have a stake in this musician now. And that was the wonderful experience about finding people who are off the mainstream. I think it fits perfectly with what he's doing. I think it's kind of brilliant."

Matheny calls the packages of tapes and computer codes his caches. So far, he's hidden three. When he announced that the first cache had been hidden in Brooklyn, college student Tiel Reardon took the bait. She and a friend headed out to find it, but the GPS coordinates pointed only to an intersection. They spent an hour before figuring out that the cache was hidden in an out-of-service subway station. They headed down, looking for signs that might lead them toward the cache. But it turned out there were signs everywhere.

"There were a lot of different flyers, and we got really confused and fixated on certain signs that we thought were indicating where they were," Reardon says. "There was this one sticker, I think it was on two of the four posts, and we thought somehow it was connected to the project. Turns out it wasn't."

They didn't find the tapes, but Reardon says her adventure wasn't a total loss. After she and her friend gave up, they walked to the top of the stairs.

"And that's when I came back upstairs, and on like the third-to-the-top stop, I found this dirty old $20 bill," she says. "And I was like, at least I came back with something."

No cache, but at least she grabbed some cash.

Later that night, Reardon went to an Emperor X show and told Matheny of her search. He later mailed her the tapes.

Lost Treasures

Matheny's taking a risk here: When he hides his music, there's a strong chance that no one will ever find it, and the files online will never be heard.

On the other hand, i - NPR Music

Let's just use Emperor X's metaphor: One time, Chad Matheny and some friends scrape together just enough junk-- rope, poles and tarp-- to make a man-sized kite, a pre-Wright Brothers low-tech flying device, and they strap themselves in and jump into the winds of a hurricane to catch a few seconds of gust outside Jacksonville, Florida. Just as the ad hoc construction of the wing didn't stop it from taking wind, the aesthetic of Emperor X's recording belies its craft. Homemade and sometimes grungily recorded, the latest record by Chad Matheny's one-man band delivers jitter-- and indie pop that practically gnaws its own arm with excitement.

Central Hug/Friendarmy/Fractal Dunes (a single album named as if it were a collection of EPs) has the same aesthetic as last year's Tectonic Membrane/Thin Strip on an Edgeless Platform, but the pace is quicker. Matheny's urgent screams are like Travis Morrison's speak-sing, but while he tempers the album with typical indie ballads ("The Citizens of Wichita", "Ainseley"), it's frenzied anthems like "Edgeless" that sell this junkheap.

Matheny built the record from tinny beats and synths, guitar scraped like by nails as if against files, imagery both lucid and absurd, and bass and percussion that wander in so casually you could forget that he recorded and meticulously overdubbed the parts by himself. He tempers his inventiveness with willful crudeness-- as on the closing instrumental, where he changes the tempo by just knocking down the tape speed. And while there are as many beats as guitars-- "Sfearion" is enthusiastic indietronica, with whomping bass near the end-- the synths are as refreshingly rough as the rest of the music: The poppiest songs are fuzzed out and distorted, but still fit for dancing, or at least for hurtling yourself in place.

It's easy to act nonchalant about lo-fi, four-track wizardry, and in the post-Microphones, post-Postal Service world, we underrate the use of beats, new textures or inventive overdubs because we insist that originality won't make a record engaging. But Central Hug doesn't settle for sounding "original" or "clever": It nakedly gives a shit about itself, as Matheny assembles his album with tape and cheap wire, building it quickly before the hurricane passes and stretching it to the breaking point with the shout that's scrawled across the disc's face, "GO GO GO GO GO GO GO GO..." - Pitchfork

Ryland Bouchard's San Diego weirdo-group The Robot Ate Me takes on the Christian Right and historical fascism with On Vacation, a two-disc (though barely album-length) collection of psychedelic cabaret. The first disc kicks off with "The Genocide Ball," a strip-mined boogie-woogie about divvying up the world's hotspots. The record continues in the vein of a '40s radio broadcast, with crackly swings and marches that feature lyrics too blunt to be witty—like "Oh No! Oh My! (1994)," which sports the line, "All the human Africans are statistics / Doesn't really matter if they die." The ironic retro style of disc one gets tiresome, but it's worth enduring to get to catchy marvels like the skewed kiddie anthem "Crispy Christian Tea Time," which mocks President Bush with disarming charm, portraying him as a selfish child playing with his Jesus action figure. On Vacation's second disc offers a straighter kind of tuneful indie-rock, highlighted by heartfelt ballads like "Apricot Tea" and "The Tourist," which elevate companionship as an alternative to the mass hysteria exemplified by disc one's chilling "Every Nazi Plane Has A Cross."
Emperor X mastermind Chad Matheny also takes advantage of unifying themes and messages of hope on his one-man-band's impressive new album Central Hug/Friendarmy/ Fractaldunes. Emperor X's 2004 debut Tectonic Membrane/Thin Strip On An Edgeless Platform was catchy and quirky enough, but the new record shows more ambition, using electronics to hold together oddly structured, guitar-driven songs about disasters big and small, with a sound that's part Stan Ridgway, part Death Cab For Cutie, and part Pavement. The anthemic opener "Right To The Rails" seems to argue for the importance of public institutions, while "The Citizens Of Wichita" tours museums and medical schools, and "F-R-E-S-N-E-L Licenseur" is about the reassuring power of interstates. The album as a whole contemplates storms and escapes from storms, and stands as a testament to the way people come together in a crisis. The relaxed instrumental finale "Coast To Coast" is a benediction of sorts, sending listeners out into the world in peace, and granting strength and courage. - The Onion AV Club

Remember lo-fi? That oft misinterpreted mid-'90s indie subgenre that made a few too many kids with a few too many instruments packed into their bedrooms think they should just play everything themselves into a pawnshop four-track recorder and instant Lou Barlow cred would follow? It was punk all over again, primitive means leading the way to endless vinyl stacks that were bad on purpose, yet just plain bad to the listener as well. Chad Matheny remembers, although obviously just the good stuff, because why else would somebody even attempt to re-vibe such a catastrophic style. Fortunately, Matheny delivers on the promise once offered by lo-fi, and adds a healthy dose of modernly retro electronics that actually find something original to do beyond new wave ripoffs or folky blips and bleeps. Most exciting is "Florencia Tropicana," which somehow nails New Order far better than all of the bands fetishizing New Order, even with lines like "I sent you an attachment but Friendster lost it." At times, Matheny forgets about his electronics altogether, opting to rev up the guitars on "Constantly Constantly Radio's On" and "Garbage Shaft," but they're buffered by "Intracellular," the most obtuse item found here with its eight minutes of looping, delayed tones and passive bassline. Amazingly, Matheny seems to be getting everything right, doing his best in the places most likely to fail. Folktronica followers and the Strokes could all use a lesson.

4 1/2 stars - Allmusic


Western Teleport (to be released on Bar/None Records 2011)

Defiance (For Elise Sunderhuse) (2010)

The Blythe Archives, Volume One (2008)

Dirt Dealership (2007)

Central Hug/ Friendarmy / Fractaldunes (2005)

Tectonic Membrane / Thin Strip on an Edgeless Platform (2004)

The Joytakers' Rakes / Stars on the Ceiling, Pleasantly Kneeling (1998)



Emperor X is the project name of American songwriter and noise pop saboteur C. R. Matheny. In 2004, Matheny dropped his pursuit of a master's degree in physics to self-release a string of critically acclaimed lo-fi speed folk. His releases debuted twice in one year in the top ten on the CMJ New Music chart (6/2004, 3/2005) and grabbed the attention of NPR, Pitchfork, All Music Guide, Tiny Mix Tapes and many others. The UK's Plan B magazine called his music "a swollen interfusion of capricious brilliance." Blogs and zines compared Matheny's tracks to The Microphones, Black Dice, and early Modest Mouse, and Coke Machine Glow even suggested that "indie may well have its own Prince."

Dozens of frenzied tours followed, including several international forays into Mexico, Canada, and Australia. The performances – half Billy Bragg-inspired anarcho-electric singalongs, half Lee “Scratch” Perry lo-fi dub live sessions – brought Emperor X's music to art galleries, bars, bookstores, university symposiums, college radio stations, garbage-strewn pedestrian tunnels, and one very confused laser tag arena in Connecticut. Sometimes Matheny had the aid of a ramshackle, revolving lineup of friends on drone guitars and marimbas; sometimes he employed little more than a shoulder-mounted battery amp and a delay pedal. Emperor X shared stages with indie luminaries like Sebadoh, Nada Surf, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, The Hold Steady, and John Vanderslice, who dubbed Matheny "a serious genius" on his photo blog after they toured together. Matheny's reputation as a producer also grew -- he co-helmed the 2008 album Bits by Brooklyn jangle punk mainstays Oxford Collapse on Sub Pop Records alongside Eric Topalski of Don Caballero.

More recently, Matheny's quiet release of the ambitious album series/geocaching art project The Blythe Archives garnered spontaneous acclaim across the Internet with zero PR push save word of mouth and frequent touring. Emperor X tracks placed high on many “Best of” lists in 2009 and 2010, including that of Said the Gramophone founder and McSweeny's contributor Sean Michaels, and found their way onto the in-store playlist of American Eagle Outfitters.

In 2010, Emperor X composed music for a parade float commissioned by the Cleveland Art Museum for its annual Parade the Circle event in collaboration with Guggenheim-exhibited artist and Animal Collective costume designer Liza Goodell. The upcoming independent feature Lone Tree Couch features diegetic music by Emperor X. Most recently, Matheny was a featured vocalist and percussionist on Australian neo-grunge songwriter Adam Harding’s new album alongside Dinosaur Jr. bassist Lou Barlow. A recent story on NPR's nationally syndicated Weekend Edition featured Emperor X, highlighting Matheny's habit of burying master tapes in the ground and releasing geocache – GPS -coordinates around the world as he tours.

Currently, Matheny lives in Los Angeles and is working on his upcoming release, Western Teleport which will be released on Bar/None Records (They Might Be Giants, Yo La Tengo) later this year.