Edinburgh duo Sam Healy and Ben Martin named their act for the climatic phenomenon that dictates the strength and course of winds and storms over the Atlantic Ocean, and their material to date – the Callsigns EP and debut LP Grappling Hooks – is appropriately gusty; their buffeting combination of rock and electronica harbouring a tendency to impress the senses like a sudden squall.
Are North Atlantic Oscillation, then, a band set to fulfill their potential with the rolling inevitability of the tide? Or does their fondness for prog – and meteorological terms – preordain the pair for the hit-and-miss fortunes of gnarled trawlermen?
In Fog Electric, Healy and Martin’s experimental tendencies have undergone a sea change. The will to experiment remains, but it has become a more focused, more condensed exercise in precision; the skillful precision of the cutting edge scientist versus the reckless-yet-joyful boundary testing heard on Grappling Hooks.
The album, in fact, at times seems to plant its flag in Canterbury scene territory, its creators having meandered towards an almost Caravan-esque sound via the likes of more recent progressives including Boards Of Canada and the ubiquitous Sigur Rós.
One imagines the production influence of Tony Doogan, known for his efforts with Mogwai, Teenage Fanclub and Super Furry Animals, has played a part in the part-sterilization of the NAO formula. Tracks like opener Soft Coda and follow-up Chirality are reined in, accurate; their composition playful-yet-measured; time signature and chord change dalliances sounding as if every note was crafted under the exacting eye of harmony-oriented perfectionists.
Inhabiting the vague, sprawling space known as post-prog, North Atlantic Oscillation trade on their skillful ability to veer freely between glass ocean calmness and restless, choppy waters – but it is in the serene that Fog Electric spends most of its time and salvages the greatest treasures. On Interval, the band stack up an impressive crescendo with power, patience and poignancy, its eventual climax drawn out to near-euphoric levels.
Yet it feels as if something essential has been lost: the majority of Fog Electric’s compositions, though strong in essence, at times seem overwrought and over-thought, their respective cores obscured somewhat by production alchemy. Mirador, for one, descends from dramatic simplicity to a soundscape cluttered with too many ideas.
More forceful efforts, too, are a mixed bag: Expert With Altimeter’s power ballad essence is utterly effective, carrying the album through its midsection with aplomb, but Empire Waste again attempts to cram too many elements into too narrow a plain, its dense constitution – though admirable – sounding as if it is sheltering the bare bones of two, three unrealized tracks.
Nevertheless, Fog Electric pours forth unremittingly, its component parts evidently wrought with deft-handed musicianship – even if the occasional moments of excellence are not carried throughout. The pair remain, as such, an enigmatic proposition, and Fog Electric an LP that will, for the most part, give back what you care to put in.