Having a well stocked music library is one of the greatest pleasures in my life. I’m a bit of an odd chap I suppose as I don’t watch TV and prefer to spend my evenings listening to music, usually whilst reading a book. Music is constantly playing throughout my day no matter what I do and so having a wide choice of albums to soak up is essential for me. It’s fair to describe myself as a bit of an obsessive, a collector who loves the thrill of exploring new releases or previously undiscovered gems. But there are times when I don’t want to think about what to play, just put on a familiar record that I know has the ability to impact my mood or train of thought. I’m lucky to have many such albums in my collection as well as a number of bands who I know I can always turn to when the need arises. Boards Of Canada are one of these bands.
I bought my first Boards Of Canada release back in 1996, it was called Hi Scores and was issued by Skam Records. I spent a great deal of time playing this six track EP over the following months but it was the final track on the disc which I kept returning to. Everything You Do Is A Balloon is a perfect example of the entire BOC microcosm of sound condensed into seven minutes and to this day still manages to bring me out in goose-pimples. From then on I collected everything I could possibly get my hands on. I bought each of the three full length LPs as they were released as well as a handful of EPs. BOC were never the most prolific of bands but that didn’t matter to me, each album seemed to be loaded with so many hidden layers, obscure details and double meanings that repeated play was almost mandatory. Their final release was the Trans Canada Highway EP in 2007, following this was nothing but silence and speculation.
That situation changed on Record Store Day this April after the discovery of a mystery 12″ vinyl in Manhattan. The disc contained twenty seconds of music and intoned numbers which formed part of a coded sequence requiring other numerical clues scattered across various media platforms. The completed code when entered on a companion page to the official BOC website was found to unlock an announcement trailer for the new album. It was a brilliantly enigmatic way to launch the first new material in over six years from these brilliantly enigmatic Scottish brothers.
I have spent most of the week so far listening to Tomorrow’s Harvest but still don’t feel I can adequately sum it up in a few short paragraphs. Maybe it’s because this is such an engaging, emotionally complex LP that needs sufficient time to reveal its subtle details fully. Or maybe it’s because this band means so much to me personally that a new album is quite a major event. Either way, here are a few of my initial thoughts on the music contained therein;
The album gets underway with Gemini which starts with a cheesy synth fanfare which sounds like a TV station ident from 1983 before turning into a tense John Carpenter-esque drift. Reach For The Dead is a classic, achingly beautiful BOC slow burner which blooms like an orchid at its midpoint as the drums kick in. White Cyclosa pitches a niggling arpeggio over warped, sinister drones. Jacquard Causeway is another future classic – all hazy, refracted synths and a loping kick which counterpoints a metallic snare hit. So far this is the audio equivalent of staring at the sunshine through a dirty window pane.
Telepath is one of the short link tracks that have become synonymous with BOC LPs through the years and features a muted voice rasping through a series of numbers. Sundown, Transmisiones Ferox and Uritual are other tracks on the album which have similarly brief running times, all three are incandescent wafts of melody. A kind of audio heat haze.
Sick Times squeezes together a fluttering synth line and various garbled voices before melting away into nothingness. Collapse has an arpeggio that references John Carpenter again, but this time in soft focus. The voices return on Split Your Infinities, sounding more like a badly damaged surveillance tape embedded in the rhythm track. Nothing Is Real is based around one of those short loops dripping in wistful nostalgia that sound like they were sourced from a cassette pulled out of a car which has been abandoned to the elements for forty years. The album closes out with two absolutely gorgeous tracks; Gone To Dust has a sort of cinematic, retro futuristic feel to it and Semena Mertvykh is an ominous vapour billowing out of the speakers.
I confess that I was more than a little apprehensive in approaching this record as it could easily have been a huge disappointment but I’m extremely happy to report that this isn’t the case. BOC have defined a sound that has been imitated by so many people over the years, usually very poorly. It must be an almost insurmountable task to produce each new album with a fresh take on any band’s signature sound, particularly when that sound is so instantly recognisable; insufficiant change = no progression/too much change = audience alienation. It’s a tough equation to balance but I think that Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin have got it right once again.
If you’re a Boards Of Canada fan then you can breathe a sigh of relief, if you’re new to this fine band then this is a great place to start your exploration of their incredible music.