North Atlantic Oscillation: Fog Electric

Grand ambition from the streets of Edinburgh.

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Fog Electric is currently being raved about by everyone from Radio 1’s new music guru Zane Lowe to Elbow’s Guy Garvey. It’s the second album by Edinburgh trio North Atlantic Oscillation (who become a four-piece live), the follow-up to 2010’s acclaimed debut, Grappling Hooks. It was produced by Tony Doogan, who has worked with Super Furry Animals and Mogwai, which makes sense because there are traces of both of those bands on Fog Electric, with the psychedelic wonder and shimmery tunefulness of the former and the proggy intensity of the latter.

In a way, Fog Electric marks the nexus, of pop, prog, post-rock, shoegaze and kosmische/krautrock. NAO are named after the climatic phenomenon caused by fluctuations in the atmospheric pressure between the Icelandic low and Azores high, and this is indeed music of contrasts. It is ambitious and experimental, only the crashing, carousing din is interspersed by gentler passages featuring harmonies that veer between coolly choral and Californian sun-drenched, as though Brian Wilson were trapped in a church.

Meanwhile, the music is epic, glacial, and yet there are moments when melody and harmony reign: think SMiLE remixed by Sigur Rós. It is an album that seeks to investigate the way all meaning and belief are lost in a scientific, post-religious world; ironically, they do this by investing every note with a churchy mystery and wonder. Fog Electric is marked by dramatic bursts and sudden pastoral lulls. The sonic shifts reflect, perhaps, the schizoid nature of a band who use rock band instrumentation as well as laptop electronics - take a bow, Sam Healy (vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, programming) and Ben Martin (drums, synths, programming).

The single, and opening track, Soft Coda sets the overwhelming tone while Chirality (named after a type of molecule) is typical of NAO’s attempt to fuse the icily imperious and the commercial. Empire Waste is fast future-funk with an electroid pulse and a treated vocal, like early solo Peter Gabriel at his most cyber. By contrast, Interval is slow, moving with the ponderous majesty of a glacier. Savage With Barometer is so like The Flaming Lips you could almost do a mash-up of it and the title track to Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. It is rhythmic, although not as in disco or funk but as in head-nodding; designed for headphones.

Expert With Altimeter is music for mountain-tops: cold, bracing and panoramic. The Receiver tones things down, reminiscent of the gentler end of prog, with a hushed grandeur that, like the album as a whole, is crying out to be given the ‘sonic cathedral’ treatment by awed reviewers.

Paul Lester

Paul Lester is the editor of Record Collector. He began freelancing for Melody Maker in the late 80s, and was later made Features Editor. He was a member of the team that launched Uncut Magazine, where he became Deputy Editor. In 2006 he went freelance again and has written for The Guardian, The Times, the Sunday Times, the Telegraph, Classic Rock, Q and the Jewish Chronicle. He has also written books on Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Bjork, The Verve, Gang Of Four, Wire, Lady Gaga, Robbie Williams, the Spice Girls, and Pink.