By Napoleon IIIrd
The designation of Napoleon IIIrd's 'Hideki Yukawa' release as a mini-album is a clear-cut example of understatement. The terming's connotations of almost lacking in weight is unnnessecarily modest, as the "mini album," although just 7 tracks in length, is a sharp
observation of modern life at its lightest, and no less than a protest song at its most intense.
And the concept of protest song resonates strongly throughout, not only in the brilliantly perceptive content of the lyrics, but so too musically. Even when the strong, lofty hooks aren't transformed by densely packed vocal harmonies, it's not hard to imagine these songs as emblems of a new socio-political counterculture. The unwavering sense of an artistic creed or aesthetic, too - most noticeable when he's stubbornly pushing his voice down below its comfortable natural range, almost stubbornly clawing for the desired effect - brings to mind the strongly principled, and strongly structured nature, of so-called topical music.
Somewhat at odds with both the mini album and protest song notions, though, is the subtle complexity and flick-of-the-wrist ingenuity going on just beneath the surface. First are the textural intricacies, ranging from layers of antiphonal trumpet exchanges to artful moves between gently shimmering counterpoint and stark homophony or lone vocals. Then there are the basic tonalities and harmonies freshly approached with imaginative dissonances or bitonal agitations; but perhaps most obvious are the resourceful instrumental parts. It is not only his voice which extends beyond its accepted limitations, but capabilities and idioms of guitar, trumpet, synths and even samples are tested, stretched and morphed all within the framework of his wonderfully unfamiliar takes on the pop song.
A more than worthy follow-up to Napoleon IIIrd's ambitious 'In Debt To,' then, building on the characteristic inflections of his musical "voice," although here, maybe, the production conveys the sense of sincerity and urgency even more evidently. Not only an apt and successful taster while we wait for the next full-length release, but a large-scale and impressive work in its own right.