2001: A Space Odyssey, ambient, Bad As Me, Boards Of Canada, Canada, Cold Earth, Collapse, Come To Dust. Semena Mertvykh, Daft Punk, DaftPunk, David Bowie, dubstep, Electronic music, Geodaddi, IDM, Jacquard Causeway, m b v, music, Music Has The Right To Children, music review, My Bloody Valentine, Palace Posy, Rain Dogs, Random Access Memories, Reach for the Dead, The Next Day, Tom Waits, Tomorrow's Harvest, YouTube
Of late, there have been made many attempts by established artists who gained their reputation before the end of the 1990s to reestablish themselves in this decade. Tom Waits’ Bad As Me, My Bloody Valentine’s m b v, David Bowie’s The Next Day, and in this case, Boards Of Canada’s Tomorrow’s Harvest. What all of these albums share is a sense of the distillation of each of these great artists’ classic sound, as they have developed over several albums, each with their own distinct mood and element, into one semi-nostalgic work. In effect, they all sound sort-of like any one of the artist’s classic albums, containing elements of all the highlights of their career and hybridized into a coherent, modern album, and to be sure they all tend to end up as well above average, but they’re missing what made these artists unique in the first place. Though they sound reminiscent of some of those artists’ classic albums (say, Rain Dogs, Loveless, Heroes, and Music Has The Right To Children, respectively), these comebacks are by no means classic albums themselves. It’s almost like a more dignified Greatest Hits collection. Experimentation, innovation, trailblazing, genre-bending and -defining – all things which made these artists stand out, none of which are present on their comeback albums. Not to define an album solely by aggregate estimation, but all of these albums scored in the 80s on Metacritic; that is to say, yes, they are good albums, but not truly great albums. It’s a pat on the back for the artist, but it seems a bit like the tombstone of a career defined by defying expectations, rather than just doing a really good job of fulfilling them.
So yes, this definitely is a Boards Of Canada album. There is absolutely nothing surprising here, which isn’t bad, because what people have come to expect from the duo is very good ambient electronica. The music is, as always, extremely evocative of certain moods, a style which almost comes across as what classical music would sound like when translated into an entirely electronic setting. If you search on YouTube for the songs off of this album, you’ll find a fan-made music video for almost every one, which is fitting, because all of the songs sound like they were made to be the soundtrack of a nonexistent movie. BoC always seems to have an image in mind for their songs. Single “Reach for the Dead” is a slow-building movement, evocative of a gradual realization of extreme isolation. Like much of the album, it has a kind of post-apocalyptic feel, which seems to be in line with the duo’s intent. Steady drum beats and arpeggiated synths underpin the track with frequent ambient intrusion to keep the flow. “Jacquard Causeway” makes use of repetition and electronic drum loops to pick up the pace a bit, standing out among the more mellow fare. The album runs further with the anxious dread from there, with “Cold Earth,” with distorted voice samples, evokes an ominous cross-section of the human and the artificial. The 70s documentary feel of the album couples with this and other sentiments to make it feel like we’re going through “2001: A Space Odyssey” from a hesitant distance as we listen. The aptly titled “Collapse” is subdued and barren, with wind sound effects battling with the synths until they eventually win out and leave the listener feeling cold. “Palace Posy” has kind of an odd, tribal-esque rhythm, accompanied by music almost reminiscent of late-90s video games like “Ocarina of Time.” “Split Your Infinities” demonstrates how they, unlike peers Daft Punk who are comfortable to totally ignore the contemporary electronic music scene around them, shows how much BoC have paid attention to developing trends, channeling some tasteful dubstep circa early 2000s London. By the time “Come to Dust” begins and ends, with “Semena Mertvykh’s” disturbing chords ending the album on a darkly nostalgic note, it’s apparent that BoC haven’t lost their touch for creating emotional soundscapes that leaves us with more musical questions than answers.
While they can still tread old ground with the confidence of veterans, Boards of Canada aren’t totally afraid to test new ground. That’s what makes this album a pleasant listen rather than a stale rehash. So their effort at recapturing their old magic isn’t hapless. Unlike the other comeback albums I mentioned, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories captures nostalgia that isn’t even their own, but with their trademark stylistic sensibility, and that’s what makes that album work. Here, the inverse seems to have been done – touching on their own familiar sound, not coloring too far outside the lines, but adding enough touches of excitement that the listener isn’t disappointed. However, it seems as though Random Access Memories, with its willingness to experiment and go well beyond what the group has done before, will be engendered as a classic of this decade, where as Tomorrow’s Harvest, and other comebacks like it, will ultimately be forgotten by all those outside of the band’s dedicated fanbase, as adequate as it may be. Despite my complaint that Daft Punk has abandoned the current music scene with RAM, for the institution that Daft Punk is, that’s what makes them continue to be relevant, while Boards of Canada struggle to both remain interesting in their own right, and hip enough to keep up with current trends, which is truly unfortunate for a band that has been such a hallmark of IDM.
Recommended Tracks: Reach For The Dead, Jacquard Causeway, Palace Posy, Come To Dust