No 110: Napoleon IIIrd

Every day, Paul Lester is out there working nine to five, finding new sounds for you. Today, he discovers a crackpot from Leeds who has written the finest tune to rail against the daily grind since, well, 9 To 5

Hometown: Wakefield.

The line-up: James Mabbett a.k.a Napoleon IIIrd plus assorted cosmic buffoons.

The background: Napoleon IIIrd is a crackpot from Leeds who sings protest songs with titles like Anti-Patria, The Conformist Takes It All and This Is My Call To Arms. He's Badly Drawn Boy with knobs on, making complex lo-fi pop out of piles of antique organs and car-boot keyboards, strummed chords, parps of brass and glitchy beats. Supporting groups like Hot Chip, the Mystery Jets and ¡Forward, Russia!, he uses a reel-to-reel tape player through surround-sound speakers, and a strobing acoustic guitar, whatever that is. Maybe it means a guitar with disco lights flashing under the strings. Nice idea.

After leaving little-known Leeds combo Little Japanese Toy, Mabbett woke up one day as Napoleon IIIrd and, after annexing most of Europe (what, again?), became a purveyor of bedsit folktronica. Now he's left the bedsit and he's out there somewhere, way out there, a human being with a robo-pop heart saying things like, "Please don't rob me, all I have are these songs" and "Average is not the best you can do." Tellingly, he likes Brian Wilson and Brian Eno, Woody Guthrie and Kraftwerk. Oh, and it's III, not 111, or 3. Current single This Is My Call To Arms opens debut album In Debt To with a fanfare of trumpets, harmonies and quasi-religious fervour, and already you're thinking, "One man did all this?!" Defibrillator is the best song ever about those devices that terminate cardiac arrhythmia. The Casual Terrorist vs. The International Board Of Wishing is a Super Furry blitzkrieg while One Song Before Bed To Three Four is noisy chill-out. There's even a love song to his girlfriend, Kate's Song, that sounds vaguely Japanese. The stand-out is Hit Schmooze For Me, the finest tune to rail against the daily grind since 9 To 5. Dolly would love it.

In Debt To is a ragbag of pet sounds and futuristic pop. Mabbett thinks his project has the feel of "the Beach Boys in Mr Wilson's sandpit, wrestling with John Cage's baby boy who is currently learning to play the trumpet". The other Napoleon was mad, too, you know.

The buzz: "One of the most visionary artists in the world today."

The truth: For visionary, read "gadget-fiend with too little money and too many ideas".

Most likely to: Remain friends with ¡Forward, Russia!

Least likely to: Invade Russia.

File next to: The Russian Futurists, the Magnetic Fields, Olivia Tremor Control, Super Furry Animals.

What to buy: In Debt To is out now on Brainlove.

Links: MySpace page Official site

Tuesday's new band: The Flies.

Paul Lester

The GuardianTramp

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