Napoleon’s music is a joy which is interesting when you consider his article below – that chords are colours and so presumably therefore tracks must have to be ‘tonal’ in both artistic meanings of the word. Take ‘Lament‘ from self titled debut album – we enter a world of smoky bars and half remembered misgivings through the warbling French lilt, yet it’s a reminiscence from a sun kissed terrace overlooking the ocean.
The use of crackling warbly voices, lovingly nurtured back to life is reminiscent of the obsession with places and time, reflection and historicity of catalogers Grasscut. The vocal guests appear not haphazardly but by invitation – made star of the show and given everything Napoleon has to give by way of synthetic revitalisation through liquid bass lines, cosseting house tempos and off kilter electronic jazz ensembles. The fantastically clever bit is making it sound so easy.
As many of you will already know Simon Mills, the vinyl collector behind Napoleon has previous, having been one half of similarly sample friendly Bent. Who could forget the sweeping magnificence of ‘Swollen‘, the glittering diamond of melancholy? Or the warm sumptuous waters of ‘Always‘, a track that successfully joins in holy matrimony the monochrome with the colourful.
Yet the colours also invoke atmospheres and feelings – seventh chords are “light blue” and wonderfully, “slightly hopeful looking”. It makes you wonder if B flat is grey, sagging and sitting on a pier pondering what went wrong.
Magpies is Napoleon’s second album, and takes inspiration from a move to a remote location in Ireland. It’s interesting that in grounding himself in the remote, there is a sense of an ease of pressure – the frenetic becomes the contemplative and vibrant hues are tempered by a sheen of the serene. ‘Blue Sky‘ meanders rather than cajoles, yet the album still embraces the act of play.
Rotund bass notes bounce around on the swings of ‘Cuddlebot‘, feet pointed to the heavens, screaming to be pushed higher, while ‘With You In Mind‘ waits patiently on the roundabout, not wishing to draw attention to itself, resolute, silent and composed.
One more thing we would like to say about Napoleon, which has nothing to do with his music.
He wrote the article below for Vader Evader four months ago. We’ve been inundated with submissions, and several times he’s had e-mails apologising for the publishing delay. Never a complaint. Always positive, always upbeat, always supportive. Talented and bloody nice into the bargain. Rare.
Here’s Napoleon’s submission:
I thought I’d switch off my cynical side and talk about a couple of things that really contribute to my music-making. I hardly tell people this stuff as it sounds a bit “oooohh you’re so arty and creative with special powers!”, and it’s all a bit art-school bollocks. I have synesthesia. If you don’t know what that is, it’s a condition in which one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another; for example, the hearing of a sound produces the visualisation of a colour.
Now, I don’t see huge shapes flying out of people’s mouths when they speak, nor do I smell sounds. If I look at a word I don’t see it glowing in colour in front of my very eyes. A person who can do that is known as a Projector. I am an Associator. I see colours with sounds and words, but very strongly in my mind’s eye. They are always consistent, precise, and have never changed. Monday has always been light pink, “R” is dark green, and the chord A minor played by strings in a higher octave is a dirty sandy yellow. I’m sure a lot of people have it, but probably don’t realise.
I first noticed it when I was a kid. My mum used to ask me what colour a day of the week was. Weirdly I knew what she meant, the colours were always the same, and I loved the game we played. I was amazed that her colours were all different to mine, and I’d contest it. And so my mum had it too… “WE USED TO CALL IT… SHINING” hahah!
Later I realised I knew the colour for very month, and every letter of the alphabet. In my teens I realised that every single word I knew had a definite colour, even numbers. Even words I don’t know now will have a colour once I’ve heard it. I passed my exams by remembering all my chemical equations and French in colours; I literally revised using felt-tip pens. Very handy, because I am not academic. I’m useless at maths, logic and common sense. I’m great with technology, and arty stuff. I think my music side came from my young parents who constantly had records playing.. Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells is the first music I can remember, and as a child it was almost like listening to a kaleidoscope.
So as I mentioned earlier, I see colours and shapes in music, triggered by timbre or melody.. or both. Piano notes are always soft dark-pink coloured teardrops that move from right to left. Pads are huge textures like hills, drums are like blocks and spikes. Chord types all have personalities and colours. I don’t have a specific colour for a particular note, but the higher or lower the pitch coupled with its instrument type dictates the shape and colour I get, the instrument type being particularly dominant. Seventh chords always are light blue, and slightly hopeful looking.
As you can imagine, this makes music creation a very fun experience. It comes in handy when mixing as I think of the sonic frequencies as well as how they fit visually. Most music software allows you to colour sections of audio, so I don’t even need to title anything. At a glance I know what is what. I’m sure a lot of musicians/listeners do this. Like everyone else, music reminds us all of past loved ones or that amazing holiday, and I’m the same, but it also puts a visual landscape in my head and it has an atmosphere, a personality.
And that’s my next thing – I’m obsessed with atmospheres of places and people.
I moved a lot as a young child when my folks split up and I think I picked up on atmospheres of strange new places, rooms and people.. some places I would be terrified of, others would make me feel extremely cosy. We all do that I know, but the point I’m making is that I really focused on that, and still do. Atmosphere is massively important to me, whether I’m writing music or sat in a restaurant.. It’s almost like a comfort blanket. We all often prefer certain seats in a room, but I am really aware of it. If I sit in one seat all night I’ll be thinking about Ghostbusters, or if I sit in another it’ll remind me of my friend’s house in the late 90s. It really dictates my experience of the moment and I’m a tad OCD with it.
When I started Magpies I knew what it was going to be like. Not just sonically, but I knew its personality; how it looked and felt. It’s a massive reflection of where I live now (I moved from the centre of Nottingham to a beautiful remote spot in Ireland), mixed with how I’ve been feeling. So these obsessions with atmosphere and my synesthesia have really helped me write it. I wanted it to communicate how I see the world through my childish eye or imaginative side. It is a self-gratifying album, I wouldn’t argue with that. Hence it being self-released. I don’t want to explain to a label the inner meaning of the album, like I just did here – it sounds incredibly self-indulgent and excessive to me. It’s too personal. To an outsider, such an explanation would make me sound like a man in his late thirties slowly crawling up his arse. Anyhow, I think I conquered a personal quest with it.
For me music’s just a jigsaw puzzle made of genres, melodies, colours, atmospheres. Samples and sounds are tools that you can use to pull people into certain places, either harmonically or by their genre or style. This is why I love sampling random things and programming synthesisers… well, I love everything about music production… Adding Hawaiian guitars to a Roland TR808 Drum machine, and then putting in a melody that reminds me of Beverly Hills Cop II made on a chunky old 80s synth…. it’s very addictive and expressive.
Perhaps I am just a walking nostalgic movie/memory machine with a built-in iTunes Visualizer.
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Introduction by Vader Evader