The six-minute centerpiece and masterpiece of Hey Man, I Understand—the umpteenth but highest-profile release from Inspector 22, the long-running, one-man, willy-nilly outlet of prolific Chapel Hill musician Todd Wesley Emmert—turns layers of discord into a multidimensional puzzle that he dares you to solve. Maybe that's a saxophone blowing those mean, grainy notes buzzing in your ears like flies, occasionally pushing the microphone past its capacity? And is that a violin scraping the sky in the distance, its mean tone stretching like a filthy canvas made of flesh? And as that split and spliced and essentially subverted boogie-woogie piano line comes at and around you from every direction, you must wonder, "How many pianos can one person pound?"
The tonality of this track, "Tea With Pazuza," recalls two avant-garde godheads: pianist and composer Charlemagne Palestine and violinist Tony Conrad. But its peculiarity—essentially turning textures into a labyrinth—brings to mind English drone master Nurse with Wound. Please pardon the litany of canonical references, but it's an important facet of the fascinating, often fragmentary music of Emmert, who's previously sampled both Conrad and Anton Lavey. His music moves from busted country songs and scowling barroom anthems to long-tone, hypnotic instrumentals and propulsive, beat-driven pieces without a hiccup. That's all to say that Emmert's music sounds well-listened, brimming with ideas concentrated beneath his own focus as an agitated experimenter sporting a dashing sense of observational humor ("Full moon/ you ain't the sun") and a gloriously intense appreciation for mangled tones. (Even his pop songs are blown out with finesse.) So maybe it sounds like Neutral Milk Hotel on the dark side. Maybe it sounds like Smog on Ritalin. Either way, here's guessing that Emmert knows those records—and hundreds upon hundreds of others—pretty well. On Hey Man, I Understand, it's an education worth hearing.
Inspector 22 and Waumiss open the Wild Wild Geese digital release of Are You a Baby? at Nightlight Saturday, Sept. 26, at 10 p.m. Tickets are $5.