The Scots' second LP glides upon thermals of synths, guitars and strings.
Brad Barrett 2012
One of those rare bands able to boast a name that reflects their sound – it's a term related to atmospheric pressure – Edinburgh-based North Atlantic Oscillation's second album glides upon thermals of synths, guitars, strings, and voices. The album tends to blend sparser, melodic moments with jet washes of sound, which build upon melodies and harmonies with shimmering echoes.
As you'd expect from an ensemble on the Kscope label – home of Engineers, Porcupine Tree, Anathema, and Ulver – the subtle underpins broad brushstrokes. In NAO's case, the swirling expansion of chords is a skeletal layer that reassures and encourages the dynamic and melodic structure of the songs. The more restrained moments, when electronic percussion seeps in under the piano, or acoustic guitars twang, help pull the gentle waves in other directions.
These quiet, introspective moments lead some songs somewhere meaningful, not directly towards the switch labelled 'distortion crescendo'. The melancholy wails of Savage With Barometer are perhaps the blueprint for the record, with swooping sonics and falsetto garnishing. The second half of the record tones it down, sliding slowly into more ambient territory, the synthesisers really stirring the understated, but glorious, melodies into a captivating pastoral scene.
The dynamics of the songs never attempt to shatter that typical post-rock peak, instead seemingly content to thrum with energy, like support beams made of light. However, while this means the songs are solid enough to stand, they lack any really remarkable twists and turns to keep the listener engaged. Instead, the majority of the musical ideas are left to fall into place within an album that is fully committed to its sound: an absorbing but fairly flimsy set that captures the numb noise of chaos and filters it through a calm and tuneful voice of reason.
The potential ferocity rises to the surface occasionally, on the penetrating drums and explosive guitars of Empire Waste for instance; but Fog Electric is more hazy, low-lying cloud cover than maelstroms and sheets of lightning. Whether this will keep hold of attentions depends on the individual listener’s balancing of subtlety versus missed opportunities. Nothing here sounds like it's missing though, and so this expansive trudge will either surround you for its runtime, or have you seeking more dangerous thrills. Ultimately, NAO prove there's nothing wrong with settling for less.