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North Atlantic Oscillation
Grappling Hooks Iain Moffat , March 24th, 2010 08:19

Give us a wave, indeed: it's practically de rigeur for new artists to take the most look-at-me approach they can, from the MTV-approved ker-ray-zeeness of Ke$ha to the confrontational insensibility of Die Antwoord, but there are precious few bands at the minute making many demands on the listener with their sheer sense of scale, which is where North Atlatnic Oscillation come in. Hell, the first ten seconds alone of this album include an alpine horn, an ostentatiously played church organ, and what appears to be someone bounding up a mountain in pursuit of Jonsi out of Sigur Ros; lovers of the understated, look away now...

In fact, it's the level of ambition that grabs most immediately about this album - it may not be entirely unique for the trio to attempt to thread together so many of the elements of not only prog but also 70s FM Americana and even a sprinkling of post-rock (in the wake of Deserter's Songs, you'll recall, there was no shortage of albums taking a similarly gregarious if not necessarily identical-on-the-genre-front approach), but the trio do so with a refreshing lack of self-satisfaction, resulting in a consistently haunting and occasionally hymnal affair. Last year's terrific 'Drawing Maps From Memory' was a hearty enough introduction to this ethos, of course, with its translucent vocals, minor-chord melancholia and visible bruising calling to mind someone performing a Maps number from memory, but they've been smart enough to tuck it away as innocuously as they can towards the album's end, which is the kind of move often seen as suicidal in the digital age, but is actually anything but the lead into it's sufficiently engaging.

And so it is that 'Grappling Hooks' is a tumble over constantly shifting creative sands right the way through: 'Hollywood Has Ended' feels like an early contender for a signature song, wending its winsome way across rawly reverb-buttressed terrain while flinging strident keyboards and bitingly last-second guitars into the cauldron, which only serves to make the Doves-via-Autechre thrills of 'Cell Count' that follow all the more startling, while '77 Hours' plays furious time games even as it descends into a Battles'n'Betas-y gamelan fug whose hovering takes on an increasingly horrific aspect that contrasts heavily with the inverted, unexpectedly Byrds-inflected folktronica of 'Ceiling Poem' and the spacious, motorik neo-pop of 'Alexanderplatz' that precede it. Indeed, the only constant would seem to be Sam's vocals, always at the very least on the brink of cherubic wordlessness and pitched with a pensive gravity, except that even that's not a tool they see fit to employ throughout (see, for instance, the oddly choogling instrumental 'Star Chamber').

If there is an exact overarching concept, then, it's a tough one to determine, however much the closing, all-but-multi-part 'Ritual' might make for what seems like an epiphany, but there's a commitment to the Other and a disdain for the expected here that ensure they're at least endlessly interesting and, more often than not, genuinely inspiring, and means that, among this year's debuts, North Atlantic Oscillation's may be the most wildly exciting of the lot...

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