A review of North Atlantic Oscillation, Grind Show(Kscope, 2018). Out today.
Ok, I’m in the confessional. Bless me, Sam Healy, for I have sinned. Well, sort of. When North Atlantic Oscillation came out with their first album, Grappling Hooks, I was stunned. Just stunned. I had it within days of its initial release, back in late 2009, and it seemed (and still seems) to be the perfect mixture of prog and pop. Truly art rock in the best sense of the term, following in the line (of tradition, not sound) of the Beach Boys, XTC, Kate Bush, and Tears for Fears. It opened my own mind and soul to a million possibilities in music and art, and it also introduced me to the label, Kscope. Kscope, I’d assumed, was the British prog equivalent of Pixar in the United States—a techno fun house of intense creativity and unending paths into realms unknown.
When NAO released Fog Electricin 2012, I wasn’t sure what to think of it. I liked it very much, but, for some reason, it didn’t resonate immediately with me. It was clearly intelligent (to the point of just being downright cerebral), but it seemed a bit cold to me. Then—and I remember it as a glorious moment—I tried it again, roughly a year after its initial release. Something hit me profoundly just as the album hit the 13-minute mark in the middle of track 4, “Empire Waste,” and the entire album just clicked for me. In prog rock, typically, one expects the song breaks to mean something, the start of one idea and the end of another. Not with NAO. The great breaks come in the middle of songs, not at the beginning or the end. I didn’t catch that until my listen of Fog Electric, a year after its release. To this day, a half decade ago, I regard it as one of the finest albums I’ve ever heard. If pushed, it would certainly be in my top 25 all-time favorites.