In the six years since his last album, ‘Christiana’, James Mabbett aka Napoleon IIIrd has covered a fair amount of distance, both emotional and literal. The culmination of that journey results in the release of his new album, ‘The Great Lake’ on 19 May 2017 (Hatch Records). A five track exploration of the possibilities of song structures within experimental soundscapes thematically wedded to James’ personal experiences of grief, ‘The Great Lake’ is paradoxically an album full of human warmth and emotion and a strident piece of abstract art, the collision point between the theory of Basinski and the melody of Northern Soul.
Now he has shared the first video taken from the album. James himself describes ‘The Scrape’ as ‘the point where sorrow becomes destructive’. The video for track was shot in a flood damaged, abandoned automotive silicon hose factory in Mirfield, West Yorkshire. The building was raised to the ground just weeks after this film was shot and a Lidl is to be built in its place. He adds, ‘I think somehow and in some way, this might be kind of fitting. The price of love is grief and grief can be so hard we can forget what love is.I am a temporary carbon marker. I am merely conjoined space. Like death, the fight to survive consumes us.’
Watch ‘The Scrape’:
The genesis for the album came with James’ move to London from Yorkshire in 2011. Journeying through the centre of the metropolis by bus every day he found solace in immersion in ambient and noise experiments as a travelling soundtrack, recontextualising the chaos and thrum of the city around him into something more surreal and passive.
Returning to West Yorkshire and settling in the artistic enclave of Holmfirth, a town perhaps best known for light Sunday evening comedy but inhabited by a vibrant creative community, James set about reconstituting his band and inviting friends to join him on the recordings. The core group of Nestor Matthews (Menace Beach, Sky Larkin) on drums, John Leaman on guitar, Bob McDougall on bass and Oli Bentley on saxophone; an instrument that James had previously felt a strong aversion to but elected to place at the heart of the composition and use tonally to challenge himself, gathered together in March 2015 at Greenmount studios in Leeds and recorded the tracks in four weeks.
Additional contributions came from Joel Midden, aka Bastardgeist, on backing vocals, Tom Rogerson (Three Trapped Tigers) on piano, Neil Walsh (Smoke Fairies) on voila, Susie Gills on violin and Jasmine Neale on cello. Whilst James recorded the strings at Dreamtrak, a friend’s studio in London, the remainder contributed via the internet, their additions coming from locales as divergent as Berlin, New York and Brighton. The artwork for the album, an integral part of the concept alongside the films that will accompany many of the tracks, was created by Holmfirth resident Freya Stockford, a name on the rise in contemporary art and graduate of Glasgow School Of Art
The lyrical tone for ‘The Great Lake’ had been set during the demoing process in London but was brought into sharp relief by personal experience for James. Having settled on an album that dealt with the big themes of humanity, the death of his grandparents within one exact calendar year sharpened that theme into an exploration of the five stages of grief, travelling through denial, anger, bargaining and depression before arrival at acceptance. Which may not sound like the most fulfilling listen yet, from such dark subject matter, ‘The Great Lake’ creates a world replete with hope and transcendence.
Central to the album is track 4, ‘And the You in Between the Space’. Clocking in at 19 minutes and 25 seconds, this three-part piece embodies all the aspects of the album and is a stark example of the bravery of James’ approach to the recording, his desire to challenge both himself and listener. Dropping to almost silence at its midpoint before building to a glorious, joyful climax, the album’s markers of tone, structure, melody, ambience and mood are all displayed within its boundaries; a rejoinder to those who suggest that contemporary music has nowhere left to travel.
‘Channels influences as far-flung as Brian Wilson, Balearic house and space rock’ – The Guardian
‘Has the relentless, cycling industry and digital-soup density of Animal Collective’ – The Independent
‘Imagine if Springsteen’s soul had been captured by synth-wielding Europeans and sent on an odyssey by anarcho-syndicalists intent on breaking into Bletchley Park to hold a disco’ – NME
‘One of the most visionary artists in the world today’’ – Drowned in Sound
Pre-order now – http://hatchrecords.awesomedistro.com/