North Atlantic Oscillation – Grappling Hooks

January 01, 1970

(K Scope)


Progressive rock is, as has
been noted on this very site numerous times, alive and well in the 21st century. Like any other music form, it’s evolved, absorbing new influences along
the way (metal, electronica, shoegaze, Radiohead) and become, at its best, a
very different beast than the classically-inclined, virtuoso-obsessed monster
that sometimes strode, sometimes lumbered across the landscape 35 years ago. Bands
like Porcupine Tree, the Mars Volta and Pure Reason Revolution have set new
standards for what prog is supposed to be.


North Atlantic Oscillation is
one of the best additions to the post-90s roster since Porcupine Tree. Grappling Hooks, the English duo’s
debut, is a masterful mélange of melody and texture, a collection of songs that
brood, shiver and soar around their enigmatic lyrics. Drummer/programmer Ben
Martin lays down grooves inspired as much by jungle and techno as rock, setting
up a skittering foundation of rhythms that keep the tracks in constant motion.
Singer/multi-instrumentalist Sam Healy builds on his bandmate’s structure with
effects-laden guitars and keyboards and ethereal vocal lines, constructing dense
clouds of shimmering sonics out of uncommon chord sequences that maintain
clarity. Tunes like the rocking “Hollywood Has Ended,” the epic “Ritual” or the
instrumental “Star Chamber” feel fairly straightforward, but have moving
targets that become obvious with close listens.


The band’s ultimate goal seems
to be a careful balance of sweet and sour, as evidenced by lines like the prettily
sung “Wait for help to come” in the plangent “Some Blue Hive,” the alternation
of the observation “Limitless corrosion/Questionable skills” with “ba-ba-ba’s”
in the knotty “Ceiling Poem” or the unsettling “They said inflammation was a
sign of bravery” in the almost dancefloor-friendly “Cell Count.” The duo’s
vision reaches its ultimate fruition on “Drawing Maps From Memory,” the lush
production and performance of which can’t conceal the unresolved tension in the
melody. (The video, which goes from cute to creepy in an almost casually
organic fashion, perfectly illustrates the band’s ability to pull unease out of


Like its contemporaries
Porcupine Tree or Oceansize, NAO keeps the best bits from the original era of
prog – melodies that push past four-chord pop, a restlessness born from a
desire to keep pushing forward – and adds enough of its own ideas to eschew any
retro fixations. Throughout the record musicianship is directed towards the
expression of ideas more than overt displays of technical power. More than any
succession of classically-trained instrumental solos, the imagination on
display on Grappling Hooks puts North
Atlantic Oscillation at the head of the new class of progressive rock.


DOWNLOAD: “Drawing Maps From Memory,” “Some Blue Hive,” “Ceiling

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