Last night, I was a bit surprised to see a Belgian friend of mine post his “Best of 2013” list. I shouldn’t have been surprised, and, of course, I was more than eager to read his choices. I’m also hoping he’ll let us post them here. In fact, I’d love for him to become a full-time progarchist. Regardless, my first instinct upon seeing that list was to play Bill Buckley, that terrible infant of the American right of the 1950s and one of the fast friends of the Beatniks, and yell “Stop! Stand athwart history!” It’s all happening so quickly.
Several progarchists have joked that the current moment third wave prog releases is akin to drinking water from a firehose. So much incredible music is being discovered, sung, written, produced, released, engineered, mastered.
Of course, there’s a real and true beauty in all of this. We’re truly blessed at the moment with so much goodness.
Still, it’s good to breath and pause. As the that grand prophet of old, Habakkuk, would call it, it’s time for Selah, time for a rest and a bit of peace. Or, as our English Puritan ancestors did on the shore of New England (I speak as a papist and an American), it’s time to give thanks.
One of my worries about the current state of prog is that we’ll miss something vital as we ckeep looking to the next thing to come out. In this spirit, then—whether of Habakkuk or William Bradford or Bill Buckley or Jack Keroauc—I want to make sure we don’t forget anything important, vital, and crucial in the real historical and artistic progress of progressive rock. Over the next several posts, I’ll offer my thoughts on albums that the we proggers (as a community) have overlooked or neglected—the best releases of 2012 that we forgot but never should’ve. If nothing else, as a historian, I want to make sure that certain things at least make it into the record (no pun meant).
So, first up, an album dismissed after listening to it two or three times, North Atlantic Oscillation’s second album, Fog Electric (Kscope, 2012).
I bought the band’s first album, Grappling Hooks, as soon as it was released in 2010. At the time, I was pretty much ordering every single thing Kscope released (I can’t do this anymore, financially; and despite the immense love progarchy has shown Kscope, we can’t seem to attract the company’s attention when it comes to review copies—Kscope, where are you??? Regardless, we’re good Stoics. We’ll make it!).
I liked Grappling Hooks. Indeed, I liked it a lot, and I listened to it quite a bit. I wasn’t quite ready to label it prog in 2010. I thought of it more like excellent pop—in league with Talk Talk’s It’s My Life (this comparison, by the way, became extremely important to me), XTC’s The Big Express, or The Cure’s Kiss Me (x3). Great stuff, but not really, properly, playfully prog.
For better or worse (well, better), I was so utterly immersed in The Underfall Yard at the time I was listening to Grappling Hooks, that I was using NAO’s release as a breather from the intensity of Spawton and Co.! Call me loyal to Big Big Train or just OCD (though, probably both!)
Well, just as I never could’ve predicted a Colour of Spring, a Skylarking, or a Disintegration, I didn’t predict a Fog Electric.
The comparison is apt. Picking Fog Electric back up this year, a year after it was released, I was—to use drug terminology of the 1960s—rather “blown away.” It is an incredible leap forward in terms of creativity. It’s as prog as the first album was pop. Each is spectacular, but in very different ways.
The two three songs of Fog Electric feel very much like the majority of tunes on Grappling Hooks. But, something profound happens in track number three, “Mirador.” It begins very much to sound like My Bloody Valentine or Cocteau Twins as a wall of sound ploddingly assaults the listener.
Then, an explosion with track number four, “Empire Waste.” Suddenly, the listener is in the same world as Hollis’s Colour of Spring. Even the drumming—generally what I would dismiss as a little too electronic—resembles very much Lee Harris’s style (track six, “Interval,” even more so). With track four, we’ve begun to trespass on holy ground. Even the lyrics astound. The song is a plea for us to recognize the modern post-World War II wasteland of colossal powers, each raping the earth and denigrating its inhabitants. The vocals become deeply haunting.
In fact, I wouldn’t just equate this, musically, with the Colour of Spring. It’s also a proper sequel, lyrically, to Thomas Dolby’s “One of Our Submarines is Missing.” Whether the three Scots—Ben Martin, Sam Healy, and Chris Howard—intended this or not, I have no idea.
While I think the highpoint of the album is in “Empire Waste,” the remaining six tracks are simply stunning. Each listen makes me want to listen yet again and again. I can’t believe I went a year without this release in my listening rotation. That won’t happen again. I have a strong belief that this album will only age well—as well as Skylarking, Colour of Spring, and Disintegration have for me.
Fog Electric will, in some way that is beyond explanation or at least my ability to explain, become a part of me. Isn’t this really want we want all of the things we love to do? Not in a possessive sense, but in the sense of sharing in the beauty of it all.
Regardless, thank you Ben, Sam, and Chris. Thank you for bringing such beauty to my soul.
No pressure, of course, but I’m waiting for release number three to be your Spirit of Eden.