In the opening lines of Leaving Copenhagen, James Mabbett comfortably declares “I think I might harbour political tendencies that sway towards the anarchistic”. These curious sentiments (an unsure declaration of pseudo-anarchy) are a nice summary of Napoleon IIIrd‘s Christiania. It’s an album discontent with standard instrumentation and straightforward song structures. An album bursting at the seams to display some new sparkling sample, polyrhythm, or bit of noise in the off-chance that it’ll be the revelatory sign a listener needs in order to enjoy their sonic adventures throughout these nine jam-packed tunes.
Christiania does seem to be more of an auditory experiment than anything else. Opening track The Unknown Unknown starts with a cloud of noise that expands into several layers of fuzzy electronic loops. Mabbett then shouts out with a gritty Bruce Springsteen-type growl before the percussion kicks in with a highly danceable beat. The song is rounded out with chants, choral background vocals, and several UFOs (Unidentifiably Filtered Objects) looped ad infinitum. An aural excess, for sure.
It’s clear that Napoleon IIIrd sought to make an experimental album that was still accessible. Like Beck‘s Odelay, Yacht‘s I Believe In You. Your Magic Is Real, or Dieter Schöön‘s LaBlaza, Christiania is an admirable, ambitious effort. Unfortunately, Napoleon IIIrd lacks the coherence of those artists and their ability to balance out the fitful arrangements and beds of noise with equal parts memorable musical hooks.
What moments of musical brilliance there are on Christiania are matched one for one with moments of musical incoherence. There’s a vibrant bounce of reverberated guitars on That Town, supported by catchy vocal melodies and an overall joyful ambience. But then there’s the frantic clapping, tinny merry-go-round samples, and unbecoming raspy shouts on The Hardline Optimist. There’s a beautiful synth drone on Rough Music, and an abrasive, annoying drone on Guys Just Wanna Have Sun. Purposeful keyboard noodling on closer MTFU, masturbatory dodderings on I Try.
Cut in half, the album would have made a compelling EP, like Mabbett’s last effort, 2009’s Hideki Yukawa. As it is, Christiania overstays its welcome with equal portions of quick, aimless changes, and long, fruitless meanderings.
There are few guideposts in place here to help the casual listener decipher Napoleon IIIrd’s intentions. It’s a challenging concoction of sounds that may or may not reward listeners who take the time to wade through the electronics, the buzzes and the bleeps, and the unintelligible noise in order to get to some deeper significance. But the process of auditory dissection, even for those who do not end up enjoying the songs, should be rewarding for any listener interested in simply expanding their aural palette.