When I first came across Simon Mills‘s eponymous debut solo album as Napoleon a couple of years ago, I was extremely pleased to hear it – mixing his former band Bent with a bit of extra weirdness, it was an extremely enjoyable album.
Second album Magpies followed last year, opening with the very soft sound of Hammock, again bringing lots of slightly obscure references to the fore but combining them expertly. The next track Can’t Live without You is better still, although this is most definitely an album which is best enjoyed as a whole listening experience rather than as individual pieces.
If you’re expecting this release to explode with sudden rock or trance energy, it’s probably fair to warn you that you might be disappointed. Blue Sky is just as laid back as its predecessors, and every bit as enjoyable.
For me, Magpies reaches its pinnacle around the middle – With You on My Mind and Foolish Pride are both absolutely gorgeous, and while neither Tattatupica nor The Same World demonstrates quite the same power, it’s only a very brief – and not very deep – lull. The worst this album seems to be able to offer is simply that it doesn’t always jump out and grab you by the throat, and that’s not actually a bad thing.
If I had to pick a favourite song, I’d be torn between Cuddlebot and Amhrán Do Tara, both of which appear together towards the end of the album. Somehow all the gentle elements which have built over the earlier parts of the album come together perfectly for these two.
Towards the very end, we get a fascinating track called A Tape from Jürgen, which is built on audio letters from people to their loved ones, and makes for a particularly intriguing piece of music. After a while, the samples drift away, to be replaced by curiously beat-driven and yet also laid back music, until right at the end, when a fiddle and flute turn up, somehow both completely appropriate and out of place at the same time.
Finally, the ethereal sound of Lopsided turns up to bring proceedings to a close. Magpies has perhaps a little less overt humour than the debut Napoleon, and it’s definitely a lot less lively, but it is overrun with beautiful, gentle pieces of music, and that’s something to be pretty proud of. It’s never going to set the Top 40 alight, which is a shame, but as a listener it also makes it all the more rewarding when you find an album like this.