In many instances, a guy with an acoustic guitar is likely to produce visions of James Taylor’s brilliant guitar work and melancholy song stylings or Paul Simon’s poetic magnificence, but Chad Matheny doesn’t operate in quite the same vein. Under the nom du rocque Emperor X, Matheny steps onto the platform of acoustic singer/songwriter with the hallucinogenic imagery of Syd Barrett, the Emo romanticism and powerful undercurrent of Chris Carrabba and the swirling disorientation of an unplugged and relatively sober Robert Pollard. Although Matheny will often record with an assortment of supporting musicians making a variety of accompanying noises on traditional and non-traditional instruments, he is typically alone in the live setting, a man, his guitar, a handful of delays and other effects and a head full of heartfelt songs (or a heart full of headfelt songs, depending on the mood or the moon).
Hailing from the unlikely locale of Jacksonville, Fla., Matheny has been curating Emperor X as a musical art project for over a dozen years. Matheny’s physical releases are often scattered around the country as the buried treasure in an actual scavenger hunt (cassettes of his latest album, Western Teleport, were initially hidden in such a manner; many remain that way), while other rarities are similarly squirreled away on the Internet in a virtual version of the same concept (giving hunters visual clues that will lead them to the MP3s).
Matheny’s musical output is similarly experimental and difficult to constrain in a single definable genre; his songs incorporate elements common to lo-fi Folk, adrenalized Indie Rock, cerebral Electronica and mainstream Pop, exploiting the benefits of all of them without adhering to the mundane conventions of any of them individually. Matheny’s Emperor X has enjoyed comparisons to Bright Eyes, Flaming Lips, Wilco and Broken Social Scene, among a thousand others, and impossibly found a way to transcend it all and offer a sound that is wildly referential and blazingly original.
EMPEROR X plays Mayday Thursday, Nov. 17 with guests JEFFREY LEWIS AND THE JUNKYARD and THE YUGOS.