With the rapid advancement of technology comes the opportunity to create whole new soundscapes. Some musicians nowadays work exclusively on computers; others hang on to the past with traditional instrumentation and analogue recordings. Still others, like West Yorkshire’s Napoleon IIIrd – one-man band James Mabbett – boldly walk the line between the new and the old.
Historical figures are becoming the new cliche for naming bands. But the man who was both the last emperor and the first titular president of France serves as a great model for this music: the man and the music both serve as a bridge between two different eras.
A taste of the older tradition is presented with the opening track of Napoleon IIIrd’s new EP Hideki Yukawa. Zebra is a strange anomaly on this otherwise electopop EP. It’s an old-time pop-rock song in the vein of Elvis Costello, ambling along with a carefree attitude. There is only a tiny hint of what’s to come on the rest of the album with Zebra – a low-fi tinge on the guitars and a rather loose playing mentality that might easily be misinterpreted as being sloppy.
If you view it in terms of the rest of the album though, you’ll soon see Zebra as a lead-in to the electronic experimentation that kicks off full blast with the very next track. By far the best offering here, The Strong Nuclear Force explodes onto the scene with catchy, double-tracked vocals, a bare-bones electronic beat and an appropriately fuzzy synth line. Tension mounts across more than three minutes of dancey excellence, leaving you wondering where the guitars got off to.
This is just the start to an EP descended from the James Murphy line of electro-pop. Napoleon IIIrd adds an element of madness to the dance with distorted sounds and lyrics that grow in obscurity over repeated listens. (We’re now taking interpretations on the lyric “Your god is two clockwork monkeys stomping their feet out of time with one another.”)
Words don’t really have to make sense when the music is this catchy. The seven-minute behemoth, The Sky Is Too High, does well without any words at all, and Napoleon IIIrd’s nonsense syllables on the track could have replaced all the words on the EP, and everything would have been just as effective.
The name of the EP works just as well as the name of the artist. Hideki Yukawa was a Japanese physicist who studied the bonds in subatomic particles, and so joins in with Napoleon IIIrd’s theme of holding things together. There’s a strange kinetic energy in this music, the spirit of a human musician coming out of mechanical, computerized sounds.
These are the sounds of the future, and Napoleon IIIrd is crafting them well. Following this EP, he has promised a full-length release by the end of the year. Let’s hope he can deliver some more hits.