Napoleon IIIrd, In Debt To

Paul Moody

By Paul Moody

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

What's in a name? For twenty-seven year old Wakefield-based studio boffin James Mabbett, it's pretty much everything.

Lo-fi psychedelia beamed straight from Mars.

Just as Get Cape, Wear Cape Fly transformed Sam Duckworth from Southend solo artist to celestial songsmith, so Napoleon IIIrd allows Mabbett to transcend geography and create in a world where the Flaming Lips reign supreme, psych-pop harmonies come by Royal decree and a song isn't complete without a seductive squiggle of synthesisers.

So what do we know? A regular fixture on the local live scene over the last couple of years — he is closely affiliated to New Yorkshire luminaries ¬°Forward Russia! and iLiKETRAiNS, and lives a few doors down from the Research — Mabbett's live shows have become the kind of events you dream of stumbling across. Tired of the restrictions which come with being a solo artist on a zero-budget, his shows are, instead, dissonant adventures in sound which regularly find him playing three instruments at once, whilst a reel-to-reel machine throbs away in the background. His two EPs to date, meanwhile, have sold out thanks to panic buying amongst star-struck lo-fi fans worldwide.

So far, so intriguing.

Yet none of this really prepares you for the low-key genius of debut album In Debt To. Ushered in by a wave of atmospherics ("Introduction to A"), it evolves into a scratchy sonic symphony where jaunty acoustic ditties ("Hit Schmooze for Me"), screwball collages ("The Casual Terrorist vs. the International") and strummed confessionals ("Kate's Song") all exist in skewed harmony, delivered with the aid of humming organs, snatches of brass and misfiring drum machines. At its heart, there's an impassioned belief in self-improvement.

“Average isn't the best you can do!” Mabbett croons on “The Conformist Takes It All,” whilst stirring first single "This Is My Call to Arms" finds him hollering “Don't live your life through the TV!” among spiraling layers of strumming. It's as though, via these grainy collages of life in a Northern town, he's egging himself on to greatness, a bedsit Brian Wilson dreaming of that elusive universal chord.

It's on "Guys in Bands," however, that Napoleon IIIrd's dreamy manifesto really takes flight. Over soaring synths, shuffling drums and what sounds like a passing brass band, he sighs “Guys in bands / Get girls!” like a lovestruck Damon Albarn fronting the Clangers.

If the lo-fi delivery means that the mainstream will ignore Napoleon IIIrd for a while yet, so much the better. For fans of the Aliens, Arcade Fire or anyone who likes their psychedelia to sound like it's being beamed from Mars, this is a valiant attempt to locate the Magic Kingdom.

Roll out the red carpet.