In his latest album, “Orlando Sentinel,” Emperor X has come back for some help from State College friends by releasing the June album through The Bomber Jacket, an online indie music magazine, promoter and now label.
“There are many reasons for this, but the foremost is our friendship,” said Chad Matheny, aka Emperor X, about the release. State College native Jen Brown started Bomber Jacket. “You’ll hear this repeated a lot in music and art circles, I think; people tend to feel comfortable working with their friends because they trust their intentions.”
Matheny is living in Germany where Brown is working, too.
In 2009, Brown helped Emperor X set up a show at Chronic Town. She and other writers at Bomber Jacket also have given Matheny exposure on the website since the launch in 2012.
“She did my tour press for a few European tours, and that relationship sort of evolved into something semi-permanent,” Matheny said. “And when Jen wanted to start putting out records, I happened to have a record (almost) done, and it just sort of made sense.”
Brown said Matheny asked for her help to release an extended play recording, but at the last minute he added nine songs and it became “Orlando Sentinel.” It didn’t matter, because she was thrilled to be working on an album release.
“I’ve always wanted to help press vinyl,” Brown said.
So they enlisted Jett Wells at Believe Digital in New York City to market the digital album. On the side, he’s also helping Brown on the vinyl release. It’s being pressed at a factory in Prague.
“She really sticks her neck out for music,” Wells said. “That really told me it was worth something because she’s been working with him for years.”
While listeners can get “Orlando Sentinel” online at Emperor X’s Bandcamp.com site or via iTunes, Wells said they pre-sold more than a third of the 300 vinyl copies in the first week.
Emperor X has attracted more attention over the years because his pop-folk music banks on smart lyrics outside the usual radio play list, Brown said.
Emperor X’s lyrics engage politics, foreign music and many more influences, but Matheny’s ability to experiment and even re-engineer his sound keeps it on the cutting edge. And it’s beginning to resonate with more people, she said.
“Just having his face on the front of iTunes was incredible,” Wells said.
Emperor X also contributed the song “Go Captain and Pinlighter” to March’s “Veronica Mars” movie soundtrack.
For those familiar with Emperor X’s pop-folk tunes like “Compressor Repair,” “Orlando Sentinel” is going to be like running a cheese grater across high-voltage power lines. Especially songs like “Caricom” that start in melodic pop. Then, you’re hit with fast-paced electronics gushing from a dancing robot.
“I’ve always flirted with electronics,” Matheny said.
“Some early reviews of my work classed me as ‘folktronica,’ even.”
A casual love-affair with electronic elements is one thing, but Matheny admitted it never dominated his other albums as it has on “Orlando Sentinel.”
“It felt necessary. Change is growth,” Matheny said. “I’ve seen lots of artists get better and better at their craft, up to a point, and then just sort of stop and get bored with the whole thing. I don’t think I’ll do that. I think I’ll keep mutating.”
You don’t have to convince other Emperor X observers that Matheny has an electric warp drive in his body.
“When he performs, he really comes alive, like a lightning bolt went through him,” said Rob Egan, one of Bomber Jacket’s contributing writers and a DJ at WKPS radio station.
Some music can be too formulaic, so it’s good Emperor X is different, Egan said.
Which means more ears on Emperor X.
“I feel like that’s really going to help him,” Egan said.
And his travels could bring him back to State College.
“I’m planning some U.S. dates around the holiday season right now,” Matheny said, “so that’s definitely a possibility. Whether it’ll be at a dance club or an anarchist house venue, we’ll have to wait and see.”