The New North Atlantic Oscillation Single

nao-fogNAO has just released its first single from its forthcoming album, THE THIRD DAY, premiered at CLASH magazine.

North Atlantic Oscillation aren’t really like other bands.

For a start, they’re named after a bizarre weather phenomenon. Casting a quick gaze over their output to date – 2010’s ‘Grappling Hooks’ and 2012’s ‘Fog Electric’ respectively – reveals a group who are comfortable in their own skin, able to mash together shoegaze, electronics, psychedelic and more.

Blessed with a near ludicrous number of pop hooks, North Atlantic Oscillation are able to piece these elements together into something immediate, something enticing. As we say, they’re pretty special.

Any citizen of the republic of progarchy knows how freakin’ much we love NAO and all things Sam Healy!  Very, very eager for this.

Here’s my review of SAND.

And, here’s my review of FOG ELECTRIC.

And, just in case you need more convincing, just look at the new cover.  Yes, it must be a part of my collection.

The Third Day
The Third Day

The Overlooked and Neglected of 2012, Part I: North Atlantic Oscillation FOG ELECTRIC

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).

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nao fog

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.

Yet Another Best of 2012

10. Flying Colors – At first I thought this was more “pop” than “prog”, but I kept coming back to it throughout the year. It’s prog, and it’s very good!

 

9. Neal Morse – Momentum. Neal stays true to his beliefs, while delivering the best album of his solo career. Full of energy and great melodies, he, Randy George, and Mike Portnoy create a masterpiece with this one.

Momentum

8. Jeff Johnson & Phil Keaggy – WaterSky. A beautiful set of ambient pieces that were recorded while on retreat at a lodge in rural Texas. The sympathetic interplay between Johnson’s keyboards and Keaggy’s guitar is simply wonderful. My students request this music while working on math problems! Continue reading “Yet Another Best of 2012”

Label Spotlight: Kscope Music

One of my favorite labels in the current prog scene is Kscope Music. Its first release was The Pineapple Thief’s Tightly Unwound in 2008, and it has rapidly become a force to be reckoned with. Steven Wilson has released all of his solo work on Kscope, as well as Porcupine Tree’s The Incident, and several PT reissues.

Everything Kscope does is top-notch, both musically and visually. They favor quality over quantity, and as a result, prog fans eagerly anticipate their releases. Their site is one of the most informative on the web, incorporating minisites for new and upcoming releases, music videos, artist’s tour dates, Soundcloud samples, Twitter feeds, desktop and mobile wallpapers, and a monthly podcast.

They have put together an impressive stable of artists, promoting what they call “post-progressive” music. Here’s a quick rundown of my favorites (in alphabetical order):

Anathema began as a very dark and heavy metal band, but now they are full of light and beauty. Their songs grapple with issues of life, mortality, and spirituality. Here’s a sample from their latest album, Weather Systems:

Engineers are what would happen if Pink Floyd and Crosby, Stills, & Nash decided to team up with My Bloody Valentine. Lush vocal harmonies on a bed of multilayered guitars. Gorgeous stuff, in my opinion. Here’s a link to an audio stream of their album In Praise Of More.

Gazpacho are from Norway, and, like Anathema, they aren’t afraid to tackle serious topics in their music. Here’s the video to “What Did I Do”, a song about P.G. Wodehouse’s being accused of treason after he made some naïve German radio broadcasts during WWII:

Lunatic Soul is essentially a solo project of Mariusz Duda, bassist for the excellent Polish prog-metal band Riverside. Their two albums tell the story of a soul in limbo who is given a choice of returning as a reincarnated person with no memory of his past life and loves, or keeping his memories and remaining a shade (at least that’s what I think it’s about!). There is a third Lunatic Soul album consisting of instrumental tracks based on the first two albums’ songs. Duda’s music is mostly acoustic, very melodic, and has a world music feel. Here’s a sampler:

North Atlantic Oscillation is a duo from Scotland. Their latest album, Fog Electric, is one of my top 5 albums of 2012. Imagine Beach Boys mashed up with shoegazers. Here’s a montage from the album:

As I mentioned earlier, both Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson’s solo music are now on Kscope. I love his work, and if you’re reading this blog, I probably can’t add anything to what you already about him!

Finally, we have The Pineapple Thief. Bruce Soord has been making wonderful music for more than ten years. As I wrote in a review of their album Variations on A Dream, “Depending on your listening temperament, his songs can either be maddeningly long and repetitious or seductively beautiful. I fall into the latter camp, and it might be because I enjoy the music of Philip Glass, Arvo Part, and Steve Reich – minimalist composers who write tonal pieces that rely upon a lot of repetition.”

Here’s “Last Man Standing” from their recently released album All The Wars:

Kscope is a label that is creating its own distinctive style, like ECM and Blue Note did with jazz, and 4AD did with, well, whatever you want to call 4AD’s music in the ’80s. By taking full advantage of social media, Kscope is spreading the word about post-progressive music worldwide.