Photofunia, the cover shown is of the reviewed album).
Since I have not heard either the three North Atlantic Oscillation albums, or the first Sand album, I sat down to listen without any prior references. Well, it was a very pleasant surprise. Electronic pop, bordering on prog rock, with a voice that is good enough to stand out, but can also blend in with the music as if it was another instrument. Looking back on my notes from the first listen, I jotted down some names that came to mind: especially Steven Wilson, but also Peter Gabriel, Mark Hollis (who also happen to be some of my personal favourite artists), and even occasional classical influences from Charles Ives and Philip Glass,
The melodious album opener Mayfly is an instant favourite, with great mood shifts in the instrumentation. LTGB would not be out of place on a Steven Wilson album, which is very high praise indeed - an excellent piece of prog. Commitment to the bit continues in a similar vein, only to end totally different in the last 10 seconds or so - very effective indeed! Seldom used furnitures introduces a dominant piano to change the atmosphere, although in the end persistent electronics take control once more. Berceuse, a practically instrumental track, is a well-chosen title for a spot of relative calmness. Embers is another track where I can hear a Steven Wilson influence, albeit here more from the softer songs of Porcupine Tree - well, after I listened to this album, I found out North Atlantic Oscillation have toured with Porcupine Tree in the past.... Initial is a slowed down song, where parts remind me of Ives in their complexity. Coward has strong melodic lines set off against a nervous instrumentation, with Ivesian passages. The final Earth mound is a 10min+ epic, with an '80s synthesizer riff competing with electronics resembling bagpipes, and vocal lines somewhat reminiscent of Peter Gabriel, Gradually, Glass-like minimalism takes over for a while, as the atmosphere becomes more and more relaxed toward the end.
All in all, this is a strong and in spite of some influences very original album, with no weaker songs. The only thing missing is one or two really outstanding songs (all nine would score a 4/6 on the Art Rock song rating, corresponding to "songs I'd love to put on my MP3 player"), which makes it fall short of the highest album rating. Still, on a scale of 1 to 6, this album scores a solid 5, "an album I love to play frequently". For more information on Sand and this CD, please check out the web site or the FaceBook page.