No this is not a Geography lesson, or a lecture about climate variability, but an education in one of the most promising and talented British progressive bands to emerge this decade. North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) hail from Edinburgh and are led by vocalist, guitarist and keyboardist Sam Healy, who is joined by drummer Ben Martin and bassist Chris Howard. The three-piece released their third album The Third Day in late 2014, which continued where its predecessor Fog Electric left off, filling the unnamed space between electronica, classic prog and pop.
Despite their innovative sound and perfect placement on the Kscope label (who host progressive contemporaries such as Steven Wilson, Anathema, Ian Anderson, The Pineapple Thief and Tesseract to name a few), NAO remain a relatively unknown and under-appreciated act. With this in mind I decided to write a brief guide to their wonderful and unique discography.
Grappling Hooks (2010)
Managing to mix haunting atmospheres and a poppy chorus, the album’s first track Marrow acts a blueprint for the rest of the record to follow. Whilst the music never gets too complex, it’s the combination and evolution of infectious pop melodies with bubbly electronics and an array of guitar sounds that provides Grappling Hooks‘ progressive nature. Similar to the way that Tool or Radiohead use vocals, Healy’s floating voice acts as another layer of instrumentation, rather than as a narrative tool, highlighting the musical structure beneath.
Their focus on instrumentation and their diverse musical influences is shown further within the two instrumental tracks on the record. Audioplastic mixes elements of jazz and funk around a hypnotising glockenspiel riff, all supported by Martin’s brilliant drumming, whilst Star Chamber shows off their heavier side with a distorted guitar riff that cycles around, before bass synths and atmospheric piano are added in for good measure.
Recommended: Hollywood Has Ended, Cell Count, Audioplastic, Ceiling Poem
Fog Electric (2012)
The eerie yet serene image of a shipwreck on the cover of NAO’s second album perfectly describes the mood of the music within; a blend of darkness and beauty. There is a lot more in the way of rich musical textures and atmospheres on Fog Electric, which are a perfect support for Healy’s soaring voice, resulting in a much grander feel to the album. This has meant some of the poppier elements have been reduced, but there are still enough electronic beats, chirping keyboards and sing along melodies to keep NAO from joining the likes of Sigur Ros in pure soundscape music. That being said Fog Electric is definitely less immediate in giving up its secrets than Grappling Hooks, which makes every listen new and rewarding; a trait that only the best progressive artists can claim to achieve.
Recommended: Soft Coda, Empire Waste, Expert With Altimeter, The Receiver
The Third Day (2014)
The Third Day takes another step towards soundscape music and away from the progressive electronica featured throughout their evolution. A Nice Little Place builds on a moody atmosphere, whilst instrumental Penrose displays merry and ethereal qualities. In fact every song leans towards beautiful instrumentation (just listen to the gorgeous Anathema-like outro to Pines of Eden), only using electronics and unusual sounds when they’re actually required. The Third Day is NAO’s most mature record yet and portrays a band who are dedicated to their craft of writing compositionally rich pieces with modern and unusual sounds.
Recommended: Great Plains II, Penrose, Wires, Dust
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Image Source: kscopemusic.com