Deep in the wonk

Chad Metheny's back story is about as odd as his music. More than a decade ago he dropped out of academia to pursue a life of musical nomadism. He's released music on almost as many labels as he has albums, which means a couple of things. First, his albums don't really sell much. Second, he's got something that entices yet another label to give him a go.

Emperor X
Oversleepers International
(Tiny Engines)

And even the slightest exposure to Metheny's music illustrates both realities. Metheny writes intricate--often manic--minimalist punk pop songs. Kinda like Billy Bragg recording an album with Joe Jackson, borrowing Jackson's eccentric musicality and Bragg's insistent sparse sound. These songs are catchy, but in a nerdy way. Metheny's vocals are reedy and often grating. Which is only one reason why the masses have not (and will not) catch on.

But hell, if someone like Metheny can't get press here, what the hell am I doing? Honestly, I find him brilliant and annoying as well. I love the energy and loopy, folded-in melodies (there's more than a bit of Ween in there), and I also bristle at Metheny's voice when he really gets cranked up.

Guess which won? The music approaches transcendent at times, and Metheny's range (within his self-contained minimalist universe, of course) is truly surprising. Emperor X is destined for obscurity, but it's shining and glorious nonetheless. Once you find the vibe (no small task) there's no looking back. Aggressively effervescent and almost impossibly wonky, this is an album that will always spark a reaction. I'm on the pro side, myself.

Jon Worley

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