North Atlantic Oscillation: ‘Savage With Barometer’ promo single (“new rituals form”)

18 Feb

This certainly is compelling… but why is it so compelling?

Ever since 2009 and their ‘Callsigns’ EP, North Atlantic Oscillation have been ploughing up a reputation as the new thing in rock, the sound of the future. Here, it seems that what they offer isn’t all that new, once you capture and dissect it. That engulfing hedge of pins-and-needles guitar noise – great writhing blocks of it surrounding and overwhelming the vocal, like windings of toxic insect-ridden gauze – harks back to the psychedelic revival of the late ’80s and the shoegazing bands who sprang up out of a plain of distortion, disorientation and nauseous bliss. That rambunctious bang of snare drum and tom (pimp-rolling forcefully through the music like a garbage man turned one-man-marching band) is ultimately drawn from Bonham and ‘Kashmir’. Sam Healy’s voice, pale and waving above the monstrous swell of sound from his guitars, always on the verge of drowning in it… again, that’s psychedelia returning on a comet-swing, tied to Syd Barrett on Astronomy Domine, Kevin Shields on You Made Me Realise, or Wayne Coyne on most things.

For all that, Savage With Barometer is pretty marvellous. It’s certainly full-bodied: the attention to detail from Healy and cohorts’ is streets ahead of most of their predecessors and contemporaries. It’s got a pell-mell momentum, albeit via an inexorable slow motion rather than a tremendous rush. But why does it sound new, and how does it carry that shock of emergence along with it?

I think there are two answers here. One is a matter of architecture. Beyond those towering gnarls of scratch-and-howl, the melody that’s clasped by the all-but-buried vocals refuses to be reduced to a simple narcotic mumble. Instead it’s flat-out aspirational. It builds up and out and up again: a precarious scaffolding of pitches, clinging to a hope of reaching somewhere above the roar. Even when it dips or lowers, this is merely a kind of dogged feint – a way around an obstacle. A few people have cut out similar pathways and hauled us along it with them (Brian Wilson and Tim Smith, to name but two) but North Atlantic Oscillation bring their own spooked wonder and weight.

The second answer is to do with ritual, and with belief. Healy has gone on record as saying that his band is, in effect, less post-rock than post-faith. They create music for a world in which established religion has fallen away, leaving a yawning vacuum. Into this, a confusion of signals and noise roars in a torrent, and new rituals form.

Savage With Barometer is, in fact, a trucker’s anthem. Yes, you read that right. It’s also a bitter psalm, a work-song… a portrait of how thinking can be formed by tasks. Take away the plastic Jesus on the dashboard. Substitute a dread which is now invested in the readings of forecasts, and of gauges, and on the turn of storms both physical and fiscal. Now imagine a loose squadron of men caught up in it together, and listen to those high wind-blown words again. “I want fair weather, so I will pray to Mercury / Alone and in lockstep… / We need cargo, / we need news from wretched outposts. / Show us, we can’t see.”

You can rise up and kill your first god – maybe someone else will kill him for you, whether you want them to or not. You’re actually no freer in the brave new material world into which you emerge. You’re still at the mercy of forces beyond your power to wrestle with; still walking under somebody’s bloated shadow, begging them to grant you some kind of harvest, or to provide those answers you need in order to shape and save your fumbling life. For a trucker, orders and benedictions come over the airwaves from the depot. Supply-and-demand carves necessary shapes onto their wanderings. A brief tick or plummet on a financial graph can spark a schism, spilling lives and plans and blasted hopes in its wake.

In turn, a working man’s grumble – speed-addled and resentful, stupefied by an imposed servitude – turns into a plaint, a prayer and a resentful surrender. “I want fair weather, I want white pills. / One-state anthill / – the great operation brings us all under your thumb.” Compressed by work, by the noise of labour piling up, it becomes a new and bitter creed. Perhaps what we’re talking about here isn’t the shock of the new, but of the exposed. Emerging from beneath the bellies of the old gods, we find the new vistas surprisingly familiar, if not worse. Fooled again?

North Atlantic Oscillation: ‘Savage With Barometer’
K-Scope/Bandcamp (no cat. number or barcode)
Download-only promo single
released 15 February 2012

Buy it from:
Bandcamp

North Atlantic Oscillation online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp

2 Responses to “North Atlantic Oscillation: ‘Savage With Barometer’ promo single (“new rituals form”)”

  1. Ben June 21, 2012 at 5:45 pm #

    Dann

    This is truly excellent writing about music. I’m not just talking about this latest review but your overall coverage since you started the blog. With this latest offering, I tried listening before and after reading your review. Your review is like lifting the veil on a shrouded painting, or having the depths of a vintage wine finally revealed. It’s inspirational to realise that there is so much here. You are a remarkable interpreter and you put it all onto paper or, ahem, screen, with such dazzling clarity. The only trouble is that your writing doesn’t seem to be getting enough attention. Why are there so few comments on here? Have courage! Nothing else out there can hold a candle to this.

    • Dann Chinn June 21, 2012 at 10:44 pm #

      Ben,

      First of all – thanks for your comments. It’s always nice to get feedback and encouragement.

      As for the blog not getting enough attention, that’s only natural. Despite ‘Misfit City’s earlier history, it’s still early days for the blog itself and I’ve not yet given it a huge promotional push anywhere: these things need to be given time to grow, and I’ve deliberately kept things a little quiet while I build up a diverse stock of reviews. I’ve also not linked to any other blogs yet – this is coming. There is actually a lot of fantastic writing out there and I do plan to link to it.

      Having said that, over eleven hundred hits in just over three weeks with minimal promotion is pretty satisfying, and as I can monitor my site stats, I can see how and why this is happening. In a few short phrases – it’s Facebook, Twitter, and determined cottage-industry musicians who still communicate with their fans on the level. Regarding one or two of the bigger names I’ve covered, and whom you’d expect to draw lots of hits to the site, the silence has been deafening – and those same names are usually the ones who don’t bother to respond when I send them a link to the review. As I’m becoming more and more interested in digging up the buried treasure than polishing the more public ornaments, this might not be a bad thing.

      Regarding comments – well, the door is open, and I’m trying to recruit a few more garrulous blog-followers to encourage others. I’m even looking forward to a few constructive disagreements. For those of you who are out there following ‘Misfit City’ already, or are thinking about doing so, please come in and splash around a bit. As Ben’s said, this blog is here to interpret and to communicate music, and I’d like you all to actively share it.

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