With such impressive sounds and emotions found within the debut album “Grappling Hooks” from Scottish based duo North Atlantic Oscillation, anticipation for its successor, “Fog Electric,” has been building for some time. The debut was as delightful as it was impressively enveloping and consuming, a triumph of musical creativity and expression. Sam Healy (vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, synths, sax, percussion), and Ben Martin (drums, percussion, programming) return with a release equally as impactful and absorbing though maybe without the same element of surprise and overall infectious charm.
Once more the pair brings sonic soundscapes which wrap themselves around thoughts and senses with a caressing breath and at times a firm almost forceful intent. Full of unpredictable twists and ingenious originality, “Fog Electric” takes longer and desires a fuller focus to reap its rewards, which explains its less instant engagement. The songs have an individual energy which seemingly evolves before the ear with each return to their arms offering something fresh and mesmeric. The album is less ‘poppy’ than the previous one with each track carrying within its soundscape engrossing atmospheres and encroaching ambience to keep the emotions on full alert at all times.
The album opens with easily the best song on the album in ‘Soft Coda’. It gentle swarms across the ear to pervade thoughts and senses with soft melodic swells and mesmeric harmonies whilst igniting emotive sparks with its energetic but centred calm. There is also an underlying presence beneath the pervading waves of beauty and warmth to offer an opposite shadow and depth. The previous album persistently reminded of eighties band ‘Dalek I Love You’ and this is no different in song and overall though with many more expansive flavours alongside on “Fog Electric”. Healy has said about the release: “It’s an album about doubt and loss, but there’s a counterbalancing sense of resignation and even optimism too,” and that perfectly sums up the feeling which emerges as the first track thrills.
The following ‘Chirality’ follows in similar suit but with a range of energy which floats from a dawning grandeur to a personal almost isolated whisper, revisiting both often and to wonderful effect. The track has a contagion to it which invites and succeeds in forming a mutual involvement from band and listener.
Things take a distinct direction change in sound though not in expression and emotion with ‘Mirador’ which spawned the album title from one of its lines. It is a captivating piece of striking drama, a plunge into a delicate and emotion oozing world. The intensity of the song is condensed to become almost invasive and it is impossible not to be swept up within its powerful and heart tugging aural pressure.
With further wonderful moments in the shapes of songs like the electronic consumption that is ’Empire Waste’ and the pulsating ‘Savage With Barometers’ with its distressed melodies and corrupted scratched skies, the album leaves a dark yet stunningly graceful presence within the body. For every glorious light there is a pleading shadow and for each disturbing touch or energy there is a reassuring embrace to sooth any fears.
Though with the following tracks like ‘Expert With Altimeter’ and ‘Downhill’ individually just as magical in their way to those before it has to be said that from the midway point things begin to gather with a similarity and slightly underwhelming effect. It is far too easy to lose focus and track of where one is in the overall journey. The songs still play with near perfect skill and imagination but simply merge into each other to demand an extra concentration not needed in the first part of the album.
“Fog Electric” is an excellent album though which in its first half is staggering in its power and invention and in its second enjoyable if leaving a feeling of a missed opportunity. It is a sideways step to the band’s debut album with more decisive invention and less sustained infection, but it and North Atlantic Oscillation still captivate from start to finish.