North Atlantic Oscillation Grappling Hooks Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

They’ve the potential to follow Biffy into the bright lights of the biggest stages.

Mike Diver 2010

Anyone thinking that the Brighton-based FatCat label had something of a monopoly on Scottish talent might want to reconsider. Sure, that The Twilight Sad, Frightened Rabbit and We Were Promised Jetpacks share a stable is impressive; but there’s plenty more imagination seeping out from rehearsal spaces north of the border.

The latest act likely to cause a stir amongst even the softest of southerners is North Atlantic Oscillation. The trio’s name – it’s a climactic phenomenon – implies a prog sensibility, and there’s certainly plenty of invigoratingly inventive musicianship on show. But like stateside influences The Flaming Lips, NAO understand the necessity of incorporating pop elements into their often heady concoctions, and the results are consistently engaging.

At times the three – founders Sam Healy and Ben Martin began as a duo, with Bill Walsh joining later on bass – conspire to craft tunes that summon the spirit of Grandaddy, if the Modesto rockers had been raised under grey skies rather than the azure blue of Californian climes. There’s a playful spirit to pieces that click to electronic beats before carrying themselves away on washes of sublime, super-amplified six-strings; but there’s an understanding, too, and respect of restraint – Ceiling Poem is evidence of the band’s deft handling of building suspense through understatement, only to release the pressure in a wonderfully bellicose, yet oddly bucolic fashion. 

Drawing Maps From Memory – already issued as a single – is a close-enough cousin of the angular alt-rock of mainstream-conquering countrymen Biffy Clyro, and should NAO produce more fare of this vein in the future, a similar crossover is certainly a possibility. But head-turning moments are largely those where the band expresses a degree of individuality: Hollywood Has Ended might echo Errors in its electro-pulse backbeat, but the hazy vocals – distant, diaphanous – lend it an organic heart that the Glasgow indie-dance champions occasionally obscure with circuitry chatter. 77 Hours is a propulsive-of-percussion number of real class that the album pivots on, displaying as it does several sides of NAO’s character in a single, albeit multi-faceted setting – think Teenage Fanclub as heard through Holy F*** filters.

In 2009, fellow Scots The Phantom Band attracted acclaim with their Checkmate Savage debut, but failed to translate critical kudos into commercial appeal. NAO have produced a first record every bit as special, but one feels they’ve greater potential to follow Biffy, and the FatCat three, into the brighter lights of the biggest stages.

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