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North Sea Radio Orchestra - I A Moon CD (album) cover


North Sea Radio Orchestra


Prog Folk

4.20 | 90 ratings

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4 stars North Sea Radio Orchestra seem to follow the pioneering path forged by The Penguin Café Orchestra (an original band from the murky late 70s until the passing of leader/composer Simon Jeffes in 1997), creating a rather unique form of chamber music, with a strong British folk sense while infusing a myriad of non-rock instruments (viola, oboe, violin, bassoon, clarinet, cello and percussives). But NSRO prefers to focus the musical beacon on a lighthouse of vocals, mostly spewed forth by the delicate voice of Sharron Fortnam and envelop the words with orchestrated wonder. The style is a curious alliance of folk, experimental and classical shadings that espoused a strong sense of reverie and introspection, far removed from bombastic symphonics.

There is a childlike preciousness that permeates the album, highly evident on the opener "Morpheus Miracle Maker" led by leader Craig Fortnam's plucky acoustic guitar, a seductive string section and wifey's mirroring vocals. The puerile adventure continues on the title track, where the wind instruments take the stage, conjuring images of pastoral ebullience and Sunday morning seaside picnics, where the warm solar rays collide with the gusty gales brought in from the North Sea.

A brief "Guitar Miniature #3 "winks at something Ant Phillips would create and then , as Mother Nature likes to dispose, some "Heavy Weather", a vocal duet between Sharron and Craig that is highly suggestive and enduring. The brooding cello announces dark grey clouds on the horizon, moving in on the party at deliberate yet inexorable speed, as suggested by some "weighty" percussion. The sound grows in intensity as the cloud cover slithers in to stay, highlighted by a glorious chorus of "heave-ho, down below we go". A glittering prize of atmospheric amazement this epic piece is!

"Berliner Luft" slowly takes the listener into a more experimental area, a marshalling beat that is Germanic in insistence and very British playfulness in its idiosyncrasy, a jovial synth lead conducting the various players , most definitely a highlight track that deserves recognition. "Morpheus Drone" has almost Celtic overtones, the lone cello blaring sadly in the mist and oozing indescribable emotion, suave, spellbinding and ethereal. Bloody lovely! "The Earth Beneath Our Feet" is another sparkling track, trouble-free and flimsy in its structure, Sharron's voice weaving amid the strings, seemingly content in its exaltation. The true quality of the orchestrations starts to convince beyond just window dressing arrangements and state the depth of the music profoundly, blending words and sound impeccably. Then, abruptly, the mood becomes synthetic on "Ring Moonlets", a swerving synthesizer line toying with the stars, evoking the spirit of Ant Phillips once again, essentially keys and acoustic guitar, no vocals, perhaps my preferred piece here (the end cut notwithstanding).

"When Things Fall Apart" has a piano lead and an angelic voice piercing through the pain, as "the light begins to fall" and the mysterious night appears as expressed by the onset of strings and a sobering drained mood. Lovely stuff!

The glorious instrumental "Mitte der Welt" rejoins the Teutonic electronic style of "Berliner Luft", a fitting finale that puts this album to rest on the highest note possible. A wondrously weaved melody, clarinets to the front, bitte schön! This is pure, unadulterated bliss, a marvelous piece with its hypnotic synth loops and hybrid folk/electronica. Kind sticks to your brain like a prog leech. Amazing!

This is an album that clearly lies beyond the usual prog pale, highly innovative and thus rebellious. For fans who require a strong change of pace and from the previous glowing reviews from non-genre fans(hi, finnforest and memowakeman ) , this is a quintessential slice of modern music.

4.5 lighthouses

tszirmay | 4/5 |


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