Sam Healy–while complying with Big Euro Brother laws, regulations, and microintrusions–offered a wonderful teaser/trailer for the forthcoming North Atlantic Oscillation album, coming sometime this year.
Granted, it’s only a full-eighteen seconds worth, but it’s eighteen more seconds then we had before. . .
NAO, THE THIRD DAY (Kscope/Snapper, 2014). Tracks: Great Plains II; Elsewhere; August; A Nice Little Place; Penrose; Do Something Useful; Wires; Pines of Eden; Dust; When to Stop.
And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so.God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so.The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.–GENESIS, Chapter 1
Though NAO’s Sam Healy is not religious in the least, there might be something culturally reflective here. I have no idea, frankly. But, I’m sure I’m not the only who imagined the Jewish creation story when reading the title of NAO’s third album.
Whatever the origin of the title, I was actually prompted to re-reveiw the album because of listening to the NAO compilation, LIBRARY STRIKES THE LIBRARY TWICE. Listening to the three tracks on that “best of,” taken from THE THIRD DAY, and listening to them out of context gave me an entirely new perspective on the 2014 album.
A review of SAND (Sam Healy), A SLEEPER, JUST AWAKE (forthcoming, September 30, 2016). 9 tracks.
As much as I’d like to start with something artsy (the album deserves it), I’ll just be really, utterly, completely, and totally blunt. This album is extraordinary. After a summer of horrors and violence (not personally, but around the world), this album seems like the necessary art to calm the savage soul. I think this is, quite possibly, Healy’s best.
As I’ve written a number of times before when writing about Healy (solo) and about North Atlantic Oscillation, he does three things with unadulterated excellence.
Time flies when you’re having fun listening to great music! 2014 brought in a bumper crop of excellent music in general, and prog in particular. Here are my favorites of the year:
10. Robert Plant: Lullaby And …The Ceaseless Roar
Mr. Plant returns to his folk roots of Britain, and delivers a thoroughly enjoyable set of songs. A couple rock out, but this is mostly an acoustic tour de force that transcends any musical trends of the day.
Lunatic Soul: Walking On A Flashlight Beam
This album didn’t garner the rave reviews of his first two, but I still think anything Mariusz Duda produces is far better than 90% of anything else out there. “Treehouse” may be my favorite song he’s ever recorded.
John Bassett: Unearth
This album opened my eyes to entirely different side of Mr. Bassett’s talent, and I love it. I hope he does more music in this vein – thoughtful, melodic, acoustic pearls.
John Wesley: Disconnect
Mr. Wesley has been Porcupine Tree’s secret weapon when they play live, and on the side he has been quietly making extraordinary music of his own. Disconnect is his best ever, and it features the inimitable Alex Lifeson on “Once A Warrior”.
It took me awhile to get into this album, but it was definitely worth the effort. It is a beautiful package, from the artwork and lyrics to the music itself. The subject matter is very dark, but listening to the entire album is a cathartic experience. It also has Jan-Henrik Ohme’s strongest vocals to date.
North Atlantic Oscillation: The Third Day
Their third album, and the third one to make one of my best-of-the-year lists. Soaring vocals, gorgeous string arrangements, a wall of sound that is indescribably exhilarating. If Brian Wilson produced Catherine Wheel, it might sound as good as this.
A marvelous steampunk trip through metaphysical dimensions. Robin Armstrong’s imagination knows no bounds, and his musical talent matches it.
Flying Colors: Second Nature
Wow. No “sophomore slump” for this band. One of the many Neal Morse/Mike Portnoy projects that are active these days, Second Nature is an outlet for the more melodic side of their talents. Throw in the genius guitar work of Steve Morse, and this is an irresistible set of songs.
Their Mountain album was my favorite of last year, and the only reason this isn’t number one is because it’s only 34 minutes long. I admit it – I’m greedy for more Haken music!
With Kaleidoscope, Stolt, Morse, Portnoy, Trewavas finally become a real group. On earlier works, you could tell which bits were Neal’s, which were Roine’s, etc. Every song on Kaleidoscope is stamped with Transatlantic’s distinctive sound, and it is a glorious one.
I, for one, completely disbelieve that “rock is dead” or almost dead. Many folks I could care less about believe this, and many folks I think the world of believe it as well. I just can’t accept it.
If rock—or what passes as rock—has been so commercialized and corporatized to die because the huge companies don’t know how to sell, promote, and market a band or singer any more, too bad and tough luck. My guess is that that band or singer lost its or her or his soul long, long ago. Too bad by far. If rock is corporatized, it’s really not rock.
And, frankly, I hope Rolling Stone and NME each die a quick death. They were never more than glossy catalogues anyway. They wanted conformity, not excellence. In their pretense to fight the Establishment, they were the Establishment. I could start citing Marshall McLuhan and Noam Chomsky here—two thinkers I admire immensely—but it’s not the intent of this post. Despite my nasty introduction, this is meant to be a post of celebration.
The Incredible and the Magnificent of 2014. Where to even start? So much amazing music came out this year. So very, very far from dead. Not even close.
In no particular order (except for what I consider the absolute best-est of the year).
North Atlantic Oscillation, THE THIRD DAY. I don’t think it would be possible for these guys to disappoint. It’s obvious they put everything they have into the very structure and fabric of their music. While I probably still prefer the more Mark Hollis-esque FOG ATLANTIC, The Third Day really offers some electronic beauty.
The Black Vines, RETURN OF THE SPLENDID BASTARDS. Doubting my claim that rock is very much alive? Pop this baby into the CD player, and I give you Exhibit A of how great and alive rock is. Schnikees, this baby rocks. This rocks like rock should. Clever, intense, and driving.
The Ben Cameron Project, TIPPING POINT. Only two tracks long, TIPPING POINT is one of the most interesting and traditionally proggish of all prog this year. An album is integrity and beauty. You have to immerse yourself in this one. You’ll be well rewarded for doing so.
Jason Rubenstein, NEW METAL FROM OLD BOXES. Talk about putting the “progressive” in progressive rock. No, not the Woodrow Wilson kind of progressive. The real kind—the kind that does actually advance something. Rubenstein is a genius, and his music shows just how much creativity and glory one person can offer in this rather tragic world. This is the soundtrack to every Dirty Harry movie that mattered, but presented with 2014 technology and sensibilities.
Galahad, 3 EPS. Who wouldn’t love Stu Nicholson? God made the man for us all to love and admire. Here, he takes prog toward House music. This is highly danceable prog, and yet it maintains that high intelligence that Galahad has always brought to music. There’s nothing really new, just new ways of looking at old things. A great success.
Glass Hammer, ODE TO ECHO. Again, who wouldn’t love Steve Babb? The guy radiates charisma. This outing sees Glass Hammer turn toward the mythic and the pagan. While generally open about faith, GH follows the path of C.S. Lewis, noting that the Christian is also the pagan, at least in his or her imagination. The bass thumps, the drums rock (phew!), the vocals soar, as do the keyboards and the guitars.
A review of North Atlantic Oscillation, The Third Day (Kscope; October 2014).
Tracks: Great Plains II; Elsewhere; August; A Nice Little Place; Penrose; Do Something Useful; Wires; Pines of Eden; Dust; and When to Stop.
NAO: Sam Healy (lead vocals, guitar, and keyboards; Ben Martin (drums); and Chris Howard (bass). The Third Day mixed by Sam Healy. Artwork by Ross Macrae and Brendan McCarthy.
What do you do with a problem like Sam Healy? Queue image of an Irishman-turned-Scotsman dancing around a high mountain top. Oh, and did I mention, he’s really, really smart? That is, really, really smart. Or, did I mention this already?
Of the many joys of editing progarchy for the past two years, one of the greatest has been getting to know a whole slew of truly creative, interesting, serious, perfectionist artists. Of those who reside at the very top of the top—at least in this editor’s not so humble opinion—sits Healy, dressed as an Austrian nun or not. His correspondence reveals that Sam always has that twinkle, that spark in his eye and soul. Though, he doesn’t believe in the latter, it’s there in abundance.
When I received a review copy of The Third Day, North Atlantic Oscillation’s latest aural ecstasy, I scratched my head, a little confused. This isn’t the first time I’ve been a bit perplexed by NAO’s music. When I first received a copy of the band’s second album, Fog Electric, I set it aside for a while as I just didn’t understand what it was trying to accomplish. When I picked it up again, months after its release, I realized how brilliant it was. It hit me over the head, truly a Eureka! moment. For some reason, it just took some time and several listens “to get it.” Now that “I get it,” I regard it as one of the finest albums I’ve heard in my almost four decades of listening to rock music.
This wasn’t the case, for whatever reason, when I first listened to NAO’s Grappling Hooks. That first album by the band grabbed me from the opening moments. I found it as enticing as possibly imaginable. What attracted me most to Grappling Hooks was the way in which Healy’s voice matched the music—and the music, Healy’s voice—so perfectly. The vocals sound like some of the best of early rock—the rock of my mom’s generation, the late 1950s—but mixed with the complicated and layered sonic delights made possible only by the most modern production and engineering. And, certainly, the unique quality of Sam’s ear. Well, the two of them.
Of course, there’s always the flow of the music as well. This matters for any band and any album, but none more so than for NAO. The secret to each of the band’s albums is figuring out the flow of the thing. Why did the band place this song next to this song? Or that song next to that song? Sometimes—in fact, quite often—NAO loves throwing in a curve ball, especially when the music pretends to change tracks. When you look at the chronometer, though, you quickly realize what you thought to be a track change was merely (and, by merely, I mean with genius) a shift in time signature or in the mood of a single piece. How often has it happened that I’ve looked down to see what the “new track” is called only to see the track information indicating there is still two or three minutes left of the piece you had thought had already flown by.
As evidence for the deep mystery and flow of each NAO album, simply check out the album cover of the forthcoming The Third Day.
What’s going on here? Pagan, zodiac, Plotinian, and Christian symbols intermixed (intermixing?) on some kind of biotechnology. Layers, of course, but with the infinite loop pointing us toward . . . well, whatever is beyond infinity. Only Buzz Lightyear and William Shatner really know. Under the DaVinci-esque biotech sundial doobob is a flat, Jonathan Ive type computer chip. Add in Hugh Syme-like characters and fonts from the previous two Rush albums, and you might—just maybe—start to understand the convoluted riddle that is a NAO album. I’m getting a bit dizzy just looking at the image.
Steady, Birzer, steady.
Well, I must admit, I was even more perplexed by The Third Day than by Fog Electric. I wanted so badly to like it when the review copy landed in my inbox. After all, I really like NAO and Sam. But, my reaction was somewhat muted. What was going on? It all sounded a bit “samey” to me (I’m having a hard time writing this now, as I’m laughing that it ever sounded “samey”; and, by the way is “samey” even a word?). As with Fog Electric, The Third Day took about a month and a number of listens for me to absorb. Now, though, I think I “get it.” In fact, it’s mind-bogglingly good.
Far from the neoterist “samey” the album is complex, musically as well as lyrically. It is brilliant, stunning, and glowing. While I like the entire album, tracks 6 through 10 are especially good. Far more than on the first two albums, NAO wears its influences a bit more openly on this album and especially with these last five songs. Elements of Radiohead and the Beatles emerge without trepidation. Whereas I thought Anathema almost mimicked Radiohead on their latest release, NAO honors them on The Third Day. If anything, the homage paid to Radiohead and the Beatles only increases my respect for the complete honesty of Healy and co.
Well, I’ve gone on long enough. My summary—buy the album as soon as you possibly can. NAO is, unquestionably, one of the most important and most interesting bands on the current scene. Sam Healy and co. are the future of our beloved genre.
Praise of Caesar or the month or both? I’m not sure. Regardless, an incredible track from an equally inspiring album and always thoughtful and masterful band. Enjoy track three from the forthcoming THE THIRD DAY.