I still remember the excitement in the office when the promo of this turned up and the real effort we all went into of trying not to be disappointed. It sees Boards of Canada eschewing slightly their rich and textured sound for something more cold and dystopian. To that end it slightly follows in the path of artists who were also looking back at the works of the likes of John Carpenter for inspiration. Not as warm and inviting as previous records but spin it slowly and with patience and there's a myriad of evocative high points to enjoy from these masters of their genre.
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I’ve been waiting far too long for this moment being a massive fanboy but finally I get to hear the long awaited Boards of Canada album! I found ‘Campfire Headphase’ a bit of a letdown (after liking pretty much every single track they did beforehand) so I’m hoping ‘Tomorrow‘s Harvest’ is gonna do the biz. In the run up to this I’ve been listening to the old albums again and ‘Campfire’ sounded better (when it was sunny) than it did before but it still left me with a little sick in the back of my mouth.
I’ve been following the marketing hype for this with limited edition 12”s going for a squillion pounds, exclusive tracks played on the side of Japanese buildings, playbacks in the Californian desert, etc. It’s been hard to avoid and does make you wonder how anything can live up to such expectation without somehow disappointing.
The album starts with a fanfare (it actually does) with ‘Gemini’ which is a beatless affair with an ominous vibe washing from speaker to speaker. Loadsa synths...in fact one of the main differences between this album and any other Boards album is the increased quota of synths. Anyway we’re led by the hand into ‘Reach For The Dead’ which is the track that’s been released (and the one you’ve probably heard already) which is a slow brooding number. It’s deffo a grower and one of the highlights of the album. When the beat comes midway with that synth action it’s a total goose pimple job.
‘White Cyclosa’ has a heavy John Carpenter influence whilst ‘Jacquard Causeway’ has their trademark ‘70s wonky synth sounds with a massive snare drum being battered metronomically. ‘Cold Earth’ sounds like it’s just fallen off ‘Geogaddi’ with gorgeous swirly synths and a slippery beat with some sweet bass sounds. ‘Sick Times’ is perhaps the track that sounds most like old Boards of Canada with juddery vocal samples and a hip-hop beat.
It’s pretty varied throughout but you can tell it’s Boards all the way. There’s still the more incidental sounding music tracks in between the more beaty tracks so there’s no change there. The complex skittery syncopated beats of early years are gone and largely replaced by beats that are slow and kinda lumpen sounding. But the melody, complex programming and composition are all there in spades which makes this a much stronger proposition than its predecessor.
I was expecting something much darker than this but it’s really no darker than anything they’ve done before although compared to ‘Campfire’ it’s like Prurient or Merzbow! It’s more like ‘Geogaddi’ part two than anything else so if that’s the style you’re after then you’ll feel right at home with this and you’ll be elatedly happy and that. It’ll be like the last 11 years never happened! If you ignore the hype and come into this with no expectations then I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised, or if like me you’re just a massive fanboy then you’ll be fucking well made up like.
9/10 Ilaria 5th June 2015
This album is a journey across life. All the bucolic references to seeds, earth, sun, harvest itself ,reminded me of a new future's birth, the hope of something good to pursue, a perspective of an overcome transience.
Powerful and evocative images come to mind while listening and I've never been trapped by vertical falls that some tracks inspire, "Rich for the Dead/ Cold Earth/ Collapse".
The possibility of being something else is tangible "Split your Infinities" and the idea of reality seems almost transformative, "Nothing is real".
10/10 chas 28th June 2013
Eight year wait so I had mega high hopes just about the same expectation as the nation has for Andy Murray to win Wimbledon that this would be good album.
A week earlier I down loaded " Reach for the road " which I couldn't stop playing until I received Vinyl copy ( thanks Phil). The eight year wait is well worth it as I think this is there best LP to date better than even Geogaddi and Twoism. Great tracks are Sundown, and Semena Mertvykh, infact the other 15 tracks are good, just depends what you like more - chill ambient or pure electronic beats.
6/10 Alex 22nd June 2013
A disappointing album for a Boards of Canada fan that doesn't worship the ground they walk on. This got an instant pre-order from me, and the timing of release was opportune as the stinky pile excreted by two white, French people dressed as robots trying to make black music rooted in soul from the 70's had just been released and this was a chance for decent, original music to strike back. Sadly, what we got was an album that transported me back to late 90's/early noughties that failed to deliver anything I haven't already heard done better by the men themselves.
If the boys spent all of the last 8 years making this album then the future isn't looking bright. Although it is a perfectly acceptable album to listen to it lacks the soul and cohesion of their Warp debut and Geogaddi. It just doesn't seem to fit together properly, or at all. I'm all for a disparate collection of tracks sharing similar sounds a la Actress but this sounds quite badly dated to me, if the tracklist was pruned it could be a collection of tunes that didn't make the cut for a brilliant counter-part. It might be the beats that make it sound dated as without them I'm sure it could've made a more interesting listen.
All of this sounds extremely negative, which is slightly unfair but expectations were high. I saw someone describe this album as a 'game changer' which in the real world is the complete opposite of what it is. Much like the afformentioned Daft Punk album this received huge amounts of praise on the day of the release, which owing the fact it's a boards record doesn't really compute as it is always likely to take a few spins to get to grips with it. I hoped on each listen (which has been many) to hear depths not previously discovered that took this album to another level - sadly that just doesn't happen. It seems the nostalgic palette of sounds that conjured feeling and emotion are gone. Much like the elaborate and very clever viral marketing campaign I fear the intracacies of the album lie in the realms of code cracking that only a certain type of person with enough time on their hands can work out. I like my music cold, strange and sinister but personally I prefer it with heart and soul.
10/10 BunnyRabbit 10th June 2013
The best part of eight years is a long time to wait for anything, let alone a new album from a favourite artist. For obsessive fans of a band that largely declines to engage with them it can be excruciating. And if you're a fanatic of such a band with a history of keeping things mysterious and cryptic the sense that you're being fucked with can start to become the default setting for anything that looks like news.
Trolls aside there was even strong signals from BOC's own forum representative, MDG, in 2009 that things could happen soon but were then held up by things "outwith the band's control". All very soap opera for the hard-core tip of the iceberg and just bemusing for a much larger constituent hidden from view, patiently biding their time. Thus, when the first clue in a series of teasers appeared on Record Store Day there were those die-hards quick to debunk another prank by some student. Despite the growing rumours over previous weeks from credible sources it was just too much to hope for some, it seemed. Yet the forensic machine, assembled in the balmy (and barmy) heat of summer 2006 to decipher the Red Moon party invite incident (don’t ask), oiled and tuned over the years of barely measurable signal to noise, whirred into action and played the game set by Warp and the band themselves. That first snippet off a record destined to raise $5700 dollars on eBay revealed the signature sound was intact. Number stations were referenced (just like on Geogaddi's Gyroscope) and the unmistakably plaintive keyboard sent out a clarion fanfare to the faithful. The rest of the numbers came in a confusing barrage of unannounced Zane Lowe appearances, Soundcloud audio engineering tricks and YouTube comments. "This is a conversation" intoned a new member to on fan forum Twoism. Clearly an insider, they were posting hints to a clue hidden in the file properties of banner-art on the site.
Eventually a date was revealed and pre-orders went in. It was really happening. Not just a new album but a big warm hug from Mike and Marcus to their devoted followers after a long, quiet wait. Not that the Sandison brothers' influence was undimmed in this apparent hiatus. The 'sounds of a future that might have been' was being dreamt up and sent back to the past through vintage gear and modern recreations of the saturated and analogue in increasing numbers. From the hypnogogic to the hauntological the woozy and the unsettling were everywhere. Could the Boards (as they are never called) have been out manoeuvred by those more nimble operators? Endless committee meetings trying to work out a way through the minefield? After all the production of a Boards of Canada album involves almost infinite care and attention. How easy would it be for someone to just come too close for comfort with something that hasn't had to gestate with a week spent on just a hi-hat sound?
At first listen it's clear that they haven't fallen into this trap. But at first listen it's tempting to conclude that they haven't really tried to go beyond the aesthetic laid down previously at all. No radical departures into pop or (as every second reviewer insists on referencing) dub-step. Further listening draws out the new though. The Campfire Headphase didn't please everyone with its guitars and sunset, windows-down road-trip vibe. So, whilst sharing that record's progression of their sound, Tomorrow's Harvest dispenses with the acoustic and places the synths back centre stage. It's deeper and darker than TCH but less out-and-out psychedelic than Geogaddi. A grown up counter-part to Music Has The Right To Children, perhaps.
The opener, Gemini, literally sets the scene with a short opening logo, the like of which we're heard from then before, and high sustained strings. Instantly you're listening to a soundtrack. It could even be from the opening exposition scenes of Blade Runner. The notes are almost identical, but it sounds cheaper; not lush. That’s a signifier. If you're looking at the album artwork, you're thinking: long shot; dawn; shimmering desert. We're firmly in the realm of the dystopian and the sci-fi. As the track runs we bump into and through a jumbled overture of buzzes and tones. A throbbing strings ensemble takes up with an arpeggiated synth before going it alone and fading out. We’re off.
Reach For The Dead takes on a familiarly epic quality to Seven Forty Seven, BOCs last new work (although it had originally debuted in lighter form on a new defunct website of theirs) on the Warp20 compilation. Long, slowly developing pads and arpeggiator synths build up till a familiar kind of beat kicks in. A voice mutters "Listen" in the background and the whole thing takes off; only to circle back in on the beat and opening thrum leaving you thinking it could have been a whole side, not less than five minutes. This is deliberate. White Cyclosa has more arpeggio synths, helicopters circling and trademark moody pads and keys. It feels reflective and the soundtrack concept is reasserted. People throw out John Carpenter a lot when this arpeggio thing comes up, but that’s not who it sounds like to me. It doesn’t even sound like their unreleased, ‘old tunes’ explorations of this technique.
Jacquard Causeway is, on paper, classic BOC. It could be on Twoism, it seems. But the overall effect is fresh and when the strings come in two-thirds through there's a fuller, dare I say, shinier finish. Telepath and Cold Earth also could have come out of the vaults and break no new ground. The melody on CE in particular feels instantly familiar and is a lift up, after a few darker numbers. It feels like faint praise but it's a favourite straight away and removes any nagging feelings of doubt that might be creeping in. Transmisiones Ferox pulls itself out of a noisy hole and has a translucent, almost glassy, feel before returning whence it came. Sick Times starts with BIG float-y chords. Like being sat on by a cloud who's about to cry. The beats are back on this one and there's even a bit of chopped up vocal. Collapse is a shorter fill-in which leaves you utterly unprepared for Palace Posy.
Suddenly it's started; almost digital synth stabs, until you remember what clean, late-period analogue sounds like. A lumpy beat and bass-line are redolent of one of those dubby Aphex tracks that pop-up through his catalogue. It has a more familiar ending with swirling chords and choppy singing. This feels very different from where you were a couple of tracks ago. Split Your Infinities is back to the strings and arpeggiator before developing into ghostly voices, scuffed up rhythms and ending on a shimmering whooshing fade-out. Urital is the most unsettling yet. A monotone synth buzzes round a jam-jar whilst some simple (SH-101) figures loop round each other. The tension is released in fine style by Nothing Is Real. A sort of Roygbiv reprise with its’ whistling (whistle-able?) top-line, ‘bow’ming two-note bass and soft piano chops underneath. The motif never develops and remains stuck in a three-bar loop, being overtaken by a creepy voice and string pads. This track feels like a freshening breeze after the previous pieces.
These out of place moments are common in soundtrack records and often only make sense if you know the film. Sundown is just chords, great chords; and then New Seeds pulls off another transition into something new. A choppy loop which could be guitars, but probably aren't, lay down a sort of punk/new wave bed which is then left to do its thing for chords and pads to develop over for nearly four minutes before taking a left turn and into a more conventional kind of tune with electric piano. At the last we hear that fanfare from the teaser canpaign again. Come to Dust keeps things going with deep poly-synth chords spelling out the progression for a beat and its complimentary melody. Arp’s are back. And the strings. And it all swings along until filtering away into something else. That was your dénouement or epilogue and Semena Mertvkyh is your end titles, which put me in mind of quieter passages on Klaus Doldinger's Das Boot OST but could be from any number of video nasty’s closing credits.
This fan-boi is satisfied. BOC aren’t going to make it easy for you and if you don’t really know their catalogue I can imagine it being a daunting first listen. Equally you might wonder where the complexity and details are first time out. There’s no disappointment waiting though. This is a Boards Of Canada album worthy of the name. The tunes shine through, the beats crunch and boom, the creepiness pervades, the hopefulness, the sadness, the sounds, the sights and the magic are all there waiting. Just, try and turn out something a bit sooner next time, eh fellas?
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