North Atlantic Oscillation – Fog Electric
Normally, saying that an album is never able to fully settle into itself would be a criticism, but in the case of Fog Electric, this is a compliment. It doesn’t settle because its creators never really allow it to, creating a set of songs in which each component is refreshingly different to the ones it’s surrounded by. I must say that KScope Records have a lot going for them right now. Two weeks ago they released one of my favourite albums of the year in Anathema’s Weather Systems, and they’ve quickly followed it with this: an ambitious, sprawling and powerful album from Scotland’s North Atlantic Oscillation [Facebook/Soundcloud].
The Edinburgh trio, multi-instrumentalists all, describe themselves as ‘electronic rock’, and while there are plenty of electronics present over the course of this album’s 47 minutes, they’re selling themselves short. As evinced by the opening tracks, Soft Coda and Chirality, the new material has much more of a progressive rock feel to it than they are perhaps willing to let on: shifting song structures, a ton of different ideas and changing time signatures make those songs hard to pin down, at times appearing hyper-melodic before taking detours down the ‘contemplative soundscape’ route.
Described as ‘an album about doubt, loss [and] searching for meaning in a post-religious world’, Fog Electric may have had its origins in unpleasant themes, but this sense of resignation is offset by beautiful melodies and a sense of effortless grace that is most audible in the 11-minute stretch that encompasses Empire Waste and Savage With Barometer. The former is probably the most disjointed offering on the album, but its separate pieces come together to produce something extraordinarily refreshing. The latter, meanwhile, is the most direct song that the record has to offer, mixing post-rock with psychedelia and adding in a dash of shoegaze here and there. The dreamy atmosphere and gradual build over five minutes is augmented wonderfully by Sam Healy’s impressive vocals.
Coming out the other side of the palette-cleansing Interval - the album’s a lot to take in at times, so the appearance of something gentler is perfectly timed – Fog Electric moves into its final stretch with another pair of epics: Expert With Altimeter experiments with varying dynamics, its first part disarmingly quiet and giving no indication of the eruption of sound that will come midway through. The album highlight arrives next, topping out at six minutes and being the best thing to happen for the use of woodwind instruments in rock music since These New Puritans’s Hidden. The Receiver makes use of some dazzling harmonies as well, and does a fantastic job of summing up everything that the album is about. I almost neglected to mention how good the climax is – there’s so much going on in it that I’m not surprised about that.
This is an album that is forward-thinking rather than straightforward, and it is all the better for it; one of the most ambitious albums of the year, flirting with many different genres and ideas yet refusing to settle, in a manner that screams ‘diversity!’, instead of highlighting a scatter-shot approach to music making; an album made by musicians in who delight in creativity. The album was flagged by its two most misleading songs – don’t you just love surprises?
Soft Coda video:
Savage With Barometer:
Fog Electric is out now via KScope Records.