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Call Signs by North Atlantic Oscillation

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Reviewed on 8th November 2009.


Call Signs

By North Atlantic Oscillation

As a debut release and supposed EP, 'Call Signs' is a little thin on the ground. Its four tracks include one remix and one cover, meaning you're only getting two original North Atlantic Oscillation songs for your money. However, it's difficult to hold this against this Scottish three-piece, when what few songs they are offering, are of such a high standard. The band blend live instruments with waves of computerised sound, with a rare skill that'll win over those who usually run a mile from the word 'pre-recorded.'

EP-opener 'Cell Count' is crunching, sludgy electronica, underpinned by a boneheaded, marching beat that contrasts against frontman Sam's fuzzy, occasionally Beatles-esque vocals. It gathers to highs of intoxicating alt-pop fuzz and spacey sound effects that electronic-rock superstars Muse would be proud of; while that bass beat continues to glug away in the background, propelling the song along with all the mindless drive of a hardcore dance tune.

It's an unusual combination that, rather excitingly, works. The only time when 'Cell Count' doesn't blow you away, is when North Atlantic Oscillation take it down to a barebones of scrappy synth-work, losing that hypnotic headiness that made the song absorbing in the first place. Still, it's easy to overlook, when the rest of 'Cell Count' is such head-spinning brilliance.

'Ceiling Poem' once again carefully crafts disparate elements into something that works surprisingly well. In this case, it's a skittering underlying beat and pumping, industrial synths. As always, Sam's vocals meander dreamily through North Atlantic Oscillation's edgy electronica, and cut an interesting contrast. Just when you thought you had 'Ceiling Poem' pegged, its second half veers into bass-drenched, guitar-heavy territory, solidifying North Atlantic Oscillation's status as a band who like to keep you on your toes.

North Atlantic Oscillation's interpretation of 'I Only Have Eyes For You' is one long, dreamy undulation, awash with static, distortion and sublime vocal lines. It's a lighters-in-the-air, sway-along, luxuriant wave of sound that'll draw you softly in. Pure, easy-on-the-ears wistfulness.

This EP comes to a close with '77 Hours,' which is remixed by label mates Engineers. The remixing process has given it a harsher, cruder edge than the previous three songs, meaning this is the weakest track on the EP. The relentless background jangle feels unpleasantly at odds with Sam's wafting vocals, and gives '77 Hours' an artificial feel that the other three tracks, although synth-packed, expertly manage to avoid.

'Call Signs' is an unclassifiable listening experience. Alternative synth-pop, with an indie-rock sensibility that'll see it appeal to those who'd usually give electronica a wide berth, but with driving dance beats that'll have it luring in the dance-club crowd. One for those who are looking for something a little bit different.



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