There always seems to be some sort of distrust around creative and literate singer-songwriters, especially in the UK. Artists like John K. Samson, John Darneille and Toby Foster feel like the preserve of the few – a cultish, bookish throng of people who invest in lyrics and mood beyond simple refrains and easy-going choruses.
Occasionally, these artists break out – the love afforded The Hotelier following the success of ‘Home, Like Noplace Is There’ emphasises how literate punk music can find a larger audience when the stars align. Which brings us to Chad R. Matheny (AKA Emperor X), a man whose career echoes the challenges faced by Samson, Darnielle and Foster; an exceptionally gifted lyricist who feels like a best kept secret.
‘Oversleepers International’ is Emperor X’s eighth full-length and first for Tiny Engines, and is as whimsical and insightful as anything that has gone before. It sounds gorgeous too; the layered vocals on ’30,000 Euros’ working perfectly with the sparse keys and processed beats, while lead single ‘Wasted on the Senate Floor’ is a countrified slice of indie-punk that emphasises Matheny’s socio-political lyrical leanings.
Naturally, such verbosity will be too much for some, and the eccentric arrangements – which come off like The Decemberists going toe-to-toe with Atom and his Package – may be too left-field for those who like straight-ahead pop/rock songs. That said, there’s beauty to be found in the eccentricities. ‘Tanline Debris’ is a frayed and frazzled slice of indie rock that is utterly beguiling, if a little oblique lyrically, while the title track keeps things simple musically but spins a wonderful storytelling narrative.
‘Oversleepers International’ is proof that great pop music doesn’t have to play to the lowest common denominator. Instead, it spins on its own axis, removed from outside musical influences, but instead stimulated by and created in response to the political and social landscape. It’s the work of a true auteur – and is all the better for it.
’Oversleepers International’ by Emperor X is released on 5th May on Tiny Engines.
Words by Rob Mair (@BobNightMair)