North Atlantic Oscillation – United Wire album review

28 04 2023

United Wire is the new album from North Atlantic Oscillation, and the first release since Grind Show in 2018. The album is available as a download or limited (and it really is limited!) CD direct from the band. A streaming release will follow.

North Atlantic Oscillation - United Wire cover art

The cover-art suits the album perfectly. The bright pinks, blues and purples of the artwork match the colourful and vibrant sound of the tracks on United Wire, an album thats built to be played in one sitting, with the tracks linked to each other with no gaps.

Clock is stuffed to the brim with found sounds, deep hit you in the gut bass and jittery percussion as the sequencers swirl up and around you as the beats and Eastern synths transport you on the first part of the United Wire journey.

“Everything is a clock
A novella, a rock”

There are lots of little Easter Eggs lurking in the lyrics. Lines from previous songs sneak into other tracks almost un-noticed, and the dog from the first track (in audio-form) is referenced (but not heard) in the second track, Corridor. There is a contunuity to the sonic palette, the bright and colourful synth’s take us through the whole album, lifting and decaying to hit the listener emotionally.

I’ve always loved the drums and percussion on NAO songs, and United Wire offers us more of the same high quality rhythms, this time with the beats often mangled and distorted, but all the more powerful for it.

Rosewood adds a little classic rock flavour to the mix, I hear hints of 70s The Who in the urgency and power. Let me know if you think I’m deluded in the comments!

Glyph is one of the most immediate tracks. A laid-back vocal from Sam Healy, and a more minimal backing tick over until the song bursts into life, and as suddenly as it does, it breaks down again and mutates with a rare appearance of audible guitar on the album.

“And I’m all for breaking up monopolies
If the fragments all contain the recipe”

Glyph’s are typographic marks, and the lyrics reference this, with talk of imagery and how things are presented. Glyph the song certainly leaves its mark, referencing the power of previous NAO songs in a welcoming way.

Matryoshka is one of United Wire‘s key songs, and one of my favourite NAO songs of all time. Automaton spewed lyrics ride on top of a delicious tribal beat, that builds and builds, and then bam, it drops off to the most natural and organic piece of music on the album. A jazzy, at times quite progressive Radiohead sounding interlude, with loping drums and beautiful guitar lines, rapidly distorts before you have time to really appreciate its brief and stark beauty, turning into an industrial, visceral end section.

Coil is a slow-paced piece. Aching strings and an occasionally slightly discordant piano, with a wonderful reverb tail on Sam’s vocals, make for an emotional performance.

“The wanting builds a cage
So we crawl back, start again”

The percussion changes as the song comes to its conclusion, with an almost military precision that ushers in Torch, a dark and punishing song with the vocals laid low in the mix. On my first listen to Torch, I thought the song was a little “business as usual” but worry not, as at around one minute thirty the song drops off the edge of a cliff and ushers in a pulsating burst of electronica that almost coats an early 90s rave gloss over the song, before it sheds its skin by sleight of hand and becomes a rock song once more.

Cage dials in the electronics, with shifting time signatures, and as the longest track on the album, is given the time and space to develop at a natural pace. The mood and the arrangement shifts several times during Cage, with some parts of the song being just Sam’s voice underpinned by an electronic backing.

A feeling of familiarity coupled with nostalgia is delivered with the unfamiliar (for NAO) use of presumably sampled or VST brass instrumentation and some lyrics repeated from earlier on in the album.

The track then slips off down a swirling black and white time tunnel to greet us with Powder. The lyrics seem to reference past material, and are maybe a farewell of sorts, or possibly the signalling of a new beginning. The drum pattern reminds me a little of the iconic performance by Mick “Woody” Woodmansey on David Bowie’s Five Years, about an impending apocalyptic disaster that will fall upon Earth soon.

Whatever its meaning or inspiration, its a wonderful song, the last full track before the short, hidden piece Recoil, a mutated static filled outro to the album.

There are layers of mystery with United Wire. No performance credits are listed, so I don’t know if anyone other than Sam still remains in North Atlantic Oscillation? I presume this is the case, but NAO is still instantly recognisable in its current format, whilst touching on new horizons that bode well for future releases from an artist that has been away for far too long. Welcome back.

1 Clock
2 Corridor
3 Rosewood
4 Glyph
5 Matryoshka
6 Coil
7 Torch
8 Cage
9 Powder
10 Recoil

Released by Vineland Music

Buy the limited CD

Buy the download

North Atlantic Oscillation Bandcamp

If you are new to the music of North Atlantic Oscillation, why not pick up a copy of the excellent compilation Lightning Strikes the Library, which is well-priced (whilst stocks last), along with other NAO releases, at Burning Shed.

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