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It’s impossible to overstate the impact that Boards Of Canada have had on modern electronic music. In the 15 years since the Scottish duo of Marcus Eoin and Michael Sandison released their debut masterpiece Music Has The Right To Children, they have developed into one of the most influential acts across a variety of related genres. While maintaining an air of mystery around the project, Boards of Canada have crafted three albums and several EPs of inestimably sophisticated ambient electronica, a dense and complex back catalogue which rewards those who delve deep. Their first album in eight years, Tomorrow’s Harvest, is a dark and brooding collection of soundscapes and soundtracks with an overall tone of forbearance, and a vague sense of the apocalypse.
Listening to a Boards Of Canada album is a deeply personal experience, and one which will differ for each listener depending on their musical interests and pedigree. Like all of the best instrumental music – from classical to jazz to post-rock and every genre and sub-genre in between – their albums are left very much up to the interpretation of the listener. Personally, this album conjures up images of cold, constructed landscapes; the realities and vicissitudes of post-apocalyptic life; and an overwhelming sense of theatre and spectacle all intertwined with a sense of vague, against-the-odds optimism.
The closing track, Semena Mertvykh, is a shadowy, murky affair that would not be out of place on the closing credits of an end-of-the-world film. Influences vary, from an Eno-esque vibe on preview track Reach For The Dead, to the ’90s industrial sound of Split Your Infinities, but at no point does the album come close to being unoriginal or derivative.
The years since their last release have seen the emergence of Boards-inspired electronic artists such as Burial, James Blake and Four Tet, and on Tomorrow’s Harvest we can see that the robustness and variety of the UK electronic scene has in turn influenced Boards Of Canada themselves. Palace Posy, for example, is a track that has a whirling, fluid beat reminiscent of Four Tet’s excellent 2010 release There Is Love In You, yet builds significantly on those sounds to deliver a distinctly new experience.
Overall, the album is decidedly down-tempo, with a focus more on themes than individual beats. Jacquard Causeway, the 6.5 minute centrepiece of the album, is a track that breaks into a jazz-like beat at points, with a combination of snare, pipes and synth working together in a fresh, yet understated, way.
But, like the rest of their work, Tomorrow’s Harvest is more about moments in time than whole tracks. Drawing again from the influence of Brian Eno – who said he found the experience of working in seconds not minutes when composing the famous Microsoft Sound, like “making a tiny little jewel” – Boards Of Canada litter the album with a variety of unique and interesting textures and moments. White Cyclosa, for example, is a claustrophobic and paranoid track, like something out of a 1980s thriller soundtrack that offers something new every time you listen to it.
Indeed, the influence of film score composers is rampant on this album, with definite themes and ideas taken from the work of seminal composers such as John Carpenter, Lilo Schifrin and some of the earlier work of Clint Mansell. This pervasive cinematic overtone, combined with the attention to detail Boards Of Canada give all their work, grants the album a feeling of infinite replayability, as there’s always something new to discover.
The music of Boards Of Canada, despite its density and complexity, is remarkably accessible. Their previous two albums have garnered almost universal acclaim, and not just from within the world of electronic music. The cross-over appeal of the band is imperceptible but very real, and it’s found in the depth of feeling in their tracks and the sophistication of the production. Tomorrow’s Harvest is an album that rewards listeners who are willing to spend a few evenings with it, rather than those who will give it a cursory spin.