Pop out of the summer doldrums

Back from a two-week vacation and a bit dismayed to find I haven’t really missed all that much musically. Most bands are slogging through the summer festival earnings season, and the latest releases from stalwarts LCD Soundsystem, Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene sound uninspired. I was beginning to panic about ever finding another album worth writing about when I decided to listen to Emperor X’s Oversleepers International, which I downloaded a while back. This is the first time I’ve heard this guy’s stuff, and it comes as a much-needed breath of fresh air amid the recently steamy Tokyo weather.

My initial describe-an-artist-as-a-combo-of-other-artists reaction is a mix of Ben Gibbard and Doug Martsch (in all of their associated projects). But further listens reveal a depth of influences and ideas. The Wiki profile says the Emperor’s alter-ego Chad Matheny quit pursuing a graduate degree in physics in order to dedicate himself to music. But despite the erudite lyrical content (science, politics, philosophy) these songs aren’t math rock puzzles, they’re intimate pop anthems.

The opener “Wasted on the Senate Floor” has all the power and bombast of The Hold Steady. The polished “€30,000” recalls those 3 weeks in the mid-90s when I thought Ben Folds was really great. There are also some notable departures from the basic indie pop palette into dance music (“Warmth Perimeter”) and loopy trance (the 8-minute outro at the end of the last song).

The production is more deliberately homemade than lo-fi. More like an Etsy ornament or public access TV show than a GBV or Sebadoh classic. There’s beautiful acoustic guitar and piano work throughout Oversleepers which gives it a nice warm “live” sound. Overall it’s a strong album start to finish. Thanks for restoring my faith in music Emperor.