Monday, 17 June 2013

Boards Of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest

 

Frankly, I've never been one for the whole trail of morsel breadcrumbs - the same line of speculation that leaves an expectant millions of music fans clinging to the edge of their [office] seats in a spark of networking WTF's and OMG's. While some may be gallantly excited by this Scooby Doo detective work - usually finding an adorning black-spot on the web, or a grafted location now treasured with some radicle importance - I've never once been the type to invest my time in anything other than a confirmatory nod of interest. I can, however, see the appeal in Boards of Canada's wanting such speculative promotion, in what was a hushed announcement turned excelled outcry of Tomorrow's Harvest's very existence; the duo's first album in over eight years. As an identity that, for nearly two decades, has striven on the very idea of scissor-snipping music montages and far-flung orthodoxy in its context, siblings Michael Sandison & Marcus Eoin come across, thankfully, as far from some pretentious, disillusioning 'misunderstood geniuses' many artists (and PR associates) risk leaving a lingering stink over. But given the story to BoC's breadcrumb trail, or better put, number trail: a mysterious Record Store Day release, radio transmissions, a brief interlude on a few TV channels; their very origin and placement of such secret messaging, strikes quite the similarity to how the duo extracted, worked around and later developed their ideas from what are such cultural abodes. 

So make of the numeric codes and points of origin what you will. But one look of San Francisco's murky, dazed morning skyline on the album cover, and there's a feeling that while we may be entering the same style of remitted imagery and nostalgic kindling, perhaps BoC's voyage this time isn't as child-simplistic in its innocence. Nor as retrospective as a trotting-through of past life, or future endeavor simply as an after-thought. Rather, the future is what has gradually become the present debate. Gemini's opening to a three second sound-bite - that could easily be the calling card to a less-favourable film production company; the impression already that the album is less the serene, memory-induced state past albums have lavished within - certainly gives the early period of the record a state of cinematic prevalence. And here - as the music sweeps from serene violins to brash synths (surging reminisces of distant electronics teetering away) - Harvest's sleeve feels less a CD cover, more a film teaser; a teaser to something far grander, and far more revealing about such present-day, contemporary landscapes. Reach For The Dead matches that expectation, playing out like the very first scene to the very first act of Harvest's grand docudrama - its yawning drone of electronic and cloud-covered ambiance colouring the track in that same smoke blue and flaring yellow. And furthermore, the gestural slow-march of beats and wry electronic tone in its latter half, conclude the subject for today's study is not what makes us profoundly human in nature...but now, where we stand or hope to achieve as humans from hereon out.  

White Cyclosa surprisingly drags the previous sentiment of scenery and ambiguity and runs its step-by-step analog beats in an almost stately, self-preserved fashion. It leads off in such a way that it feels isolated from the remaining suffrage of sweeping bass and far-distanced keys, that the relation between the two sentiments feels more conflicting than contested. Jacquard Causeway does bring a feeling of perspective in regards to how BoC submit immersion and reaction between one's senses and the sounds around it. The skewed, analog electronics of previous make a return, but it's the crashing swing of drumbeats that toil and toll on the listener's centre vision that dominate this piece. Unfortunately, while the background synths and electronics do conjure a slightly more detailed and illustrative texture, there isn't as much variety or delicacy in the change to the point that it alludes the repetitiveness any rightly-sought longevity. There might be some minute changes, but it's not clearly underpinned or directly focused on to actually convince this argumentative marrying of synths and percussion isn't simply panning out more than need-be. Telepath likewise does have its interesting microsome of suggestion, if a little sinisterly conspicuous. But the number samples this time round, don't bring forward as much the same shameless glee [Aquarius] or anxious insecurity [1969] that gave past moments such transcendent quality. Cold Earth is likely BoC trying their hand at something melodically concise, and succeeding because of it. The progression of beats is a lot more clearer; the interlocking textures lining squarely with the track's chord-tonal electronics. In the end, what generates outwards is a welcoming, and quite heart-stricken, emotional fixture. And at the same time, it shares this partially mechanical, partially floating integrity with us, without drilling its pattern straight towards any musical dominance.

With Sick Times, BoC's more analytical, self-evaluative judgement begins to take on a much broadly-sweeping but adamantly controlled shape in their craft. The ambient electronics begin to feel a lot more bold and burdened with reason; some parts gently coasting across, others delicately laying down the foundation of analog  glistening and soothing chord textures. The beats however take the opposite approach in that their structure and their delivery isn't as controlled or as mechanical. There's something of a natural, more organic wander to its movement - still texturally crisp and charged, but coming off more curious and/or humble about its surroundings. Palace Posy too feels human-built; quite humorously coming off dumb-founded or dopey in response to the sheer tensity of the atmosphere around it. Drumbeats especially have a more clambered, wood-like timbre, as opposed to the former crinkling, fizzling fracturing that came before. And from here, Canada's skill for laying out tense rhythm with profound scenery, is at its most calculated best. Split Your Infinities may not provide the most provoking imagery or even the most engaging series of flashback electronics and dreamy distortion, but its suggestive muttering and faint aroma of shine-bright electronics is a reminder the Scottish duo still have a fair few spectacles left to show us in this aging conserved, sentient World of theirs.

So it's with Nothing Is Real that we finally witness Boards of Canada marrying the illcid preservation of scenery with the forefront of tense beats and electronics. The track begins with a pattern that makes me think immediately of a state of joyful naivety, but as the percussion and bass layers soon kick in, I finally swell my mind's eye with a stern acceptance or perhaps a supposed/dreaded 'moving on' from where it is I've been so eagerly based my whole life. It is perhaps the most dramatized and theatric of the tracks on this record, but it's impact and refusal in being anything other than emotionally-captivating, lies in how determined the duo clearly are in assuring the brief patterns and loops of sound come to this almighty, profound conclusion; leaving the listener one dangled nerve away from opening the floodgates that are the tear-ducts. And even through the countless bars of the same notes, tones and textures, the fact there's that deliberate on-the-edge-of-sorrow teeter, allows the simplicity of the track's substance to stand as both an emotional piece as much as it is a musical one.

Sundown shortly after follows the previous tracks' manner of showcasing itself as a more emotive outpouring. Here, in what is the most ambient and stripped-away of the album's seventeen tracks, the visage of these bright, looping drones of synths leaves a categoric glow to the music's scenery, yet one that isn't as optimistic or as fondly faint in presence, as previous layers have offered. And with New Seeds, Canada's once sainted sway of analogs is replaced by a more robust, blue-printed spout of guitars, beats and conveyor-belt percussion leads. It's more an industrial piece, but not necessarily machine-floundered in tone. The sounds remain in that familiar, sealed off containment of preservation. Yet instead, it's the quite procedural, continue-as-ordered punctuality the track abides to, that adds an even more prolonged sense of joyful innocence and, more crucially, fondness and appreciation for what's helped it to get this far. Come To Dust shares the sentiment that there are still procedures to abide to, and it's the way the analog textures carry a kind of leading voyage onward that alludes to the idea the present day, turn the future, is where these sounds are beginning to shift their attention towards. It's no longer a matter of past reminiscence or even nostalgic dilly-dallying. This is the here and now; the more laced drumbeats and synchronous momentum of tone feeling more dutiful and eager to proceed. And with Semena Mertvykh's precarious warning to something perhaps sinister or engaging somewhere down the line, the context (as suggested) of this record being a return to a realm once cast in past days, now focusing on the present - and concerned wholeheartedly for the future - becomes the true, underpinning themes by the closing end.

But it's only through the second-half bulk that is the album's better offering, do I come away accepting of the messages and theme attempting to peel through, if admittedly said themes don't hold as much cohesion as their past albums do. It's because of the album's drastic shift, in places, from one post-momentous occurrence to the next, that at times finds Boards of Canada not quite captivating the same level of emotional understanding that previous albums managed so well at phasing through. The briefer, two minute tracks especially, feel devoid of materialistic identity and actually surface in places like forced excuses for retreat, or immediate shift of perspective. These moments are the ones that feel slightly more sketch-pulled - dragged forcibly from off a blank canvas with less humane origin than their better back catalog of tracks. But when the Scottish duo manage to find the perfect balance of stunned percussion and textural aromas, their excellence in creating an abnormal field by which to ascend through, is voluntarily greeted by both the eye and the ear. Tomorrow's Harvest, as its name suggests, seeks to envisage what will succeed it when the scenery by which we've come to recognize and find an inner sanctum from, has finally vanished. Without forgetting to forge a treasured love for past life, here the sounds are more speculative, if a little precarious and timidly developed in definition. To live brief passages in the past mentally, is an acceptable escapism. But the better priority - as the album seeks to express - is moving forward onto the big, scary, plane of future time, whether we want to adhere to its presence, or not.
~Jordan

7.7

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