Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2010: Number 4

James Mabbett, the autonomous being residing behind the soubriquet Napoleon IIIrd, is someone who only avers to his own courses of action. This much we know just from his naming his second album after Freetown Christiania, a commune-like self governed area of squatters and artistic collectives in Copenhagen. But this much we also know from the way he approaches his music. His debut In Debt To veered all over the place, constructing shoutalong anthems from beat collages and roughed up guitar sloganeering. For its successor the electronic elements have taken over the lead role, these songs assembled from a great wealth of keyboards, loopstations and sundry things with wires. Those have then been married to something that never quite achieves pop status, a rush of sculpted noise that fades from monolithic to subtly undercurrented, in thrall as much to rave as modern beatmakers. In the year Stereolab knowingly titled an album No Music, perhaps the motto should have applied here for the unwary because while listenable and enthralling it's crafted out of such noise and moral confusion.

If it pushes boundaries, it's insomuch as those of what we deem experimental laptop noise. Nowhere is that better established then on Rough Music, which in capsule can be summed up as 'Fuck Buttons slowly go disco'. An impenetrable force field of slow motion noise, with the odd accompaniment of what might well be Omnichord, crawls at glacier speed, eventually joined by Mabbett echoed and slowly enunciated in baritone, eventually fixating on the curious line "heaven just for creeps and weirdos". Things appear and join the oppressive atmosphere, wordless cries echo off into space, then three minutes in Mabbett's voice breaks through the murk with forcefulness and evenutally a beat joins him as what has been built up marvellously, slowly breaks down and blissfully re-emerges as glissando sequences right out of somewhere near to the original You've Got The Love. It could go on for quite a lot longer than it does, but that moment of breakthrough makes it worth the while. Throughout you hear the results of cycling through endless permutations of samples and found sounds, noises and settings, square pegs in round holes that are hammered so hard the holes end up with corner shaped modifications. A low level white noise drone, as well as undercut electronic swooshes and tribal dancehall percussion, underpins most of The Unknown Unknown, something recognised as a guitar, here in its jagged form, not being permitted until towards the end as Mabbett's voice loops underneath. And there's clear melodies too, a wonder of picking out something subtle amid so many layers. Leaving Copenhagen might open with the slightly clumsily "I think I might harbour political tendencies that sway towards the anarchistic", but slashes across all but the core meaning of the message with the aid of tremelo'd guitar, looped and pitchshifted BVs, birdsong, an offbeat percussion solo and insistent pulses building towards a glorious chorus shout of "LET'S ALL GO TO CHRISTIANIA!" (The fist aloft, however beery, is after all as much a political act), emerging the other side as an all night rave with increasingly heavy and frantic drumming. This Town's tribal bashing over drone, shaker and disembodied samples is followed by That Town, taking the same melody and slathering it in loops of arpeggiated keyboard, Beach Boys in Hell harmonies and an oddly sunny guitar outro before a tiny portion of free jazz appears right at the end out of nowhere, returned to at the peak of I Try. The whole thing is a testament to how far the search for something beyond the pale can be taken while keeping to fairly recognisable structure, melody and sense. It finds its goal with belying ease.

Rough Music (live)

Napoleon IIIrd - Rough Music from Brainlove on Vimeo.

The full list

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