Monday, 5 August 2013

Boards of Canada - Music Has The Right To Children


Growing up - in my initial years of actually respecting an album's length - I still found myself latched to the more conventional structure of electronic records. 10/11/12-track LPs of a fifty minute length that either kept to a boundary or went off to establish new ones, my early library of dance music, synthesizer melodies and compositions comprised of little-to-no live instrumentation - always tending to follow the same pattern, even if the result itself differed. This, of course, was down to a small library. And given this was around 2004/2005, I was still coming to terms with the idea that...yes...not all music existed just to fit radio and TV ideaologies.  I imagine the first time listeners come across the 'real' electronic music - the radio-hostile type; the type of sounds that challenge us rather than fuel us - is one of the most revealing moments in a person's flock to new sounds. I imagine too, that Warp Records would be humble in accepting many a crowd's referencing their early catalog in being one of the best starting points for 90's electronics, and one of the most crucial since the genre's early days of TB-303's and the like. The 'big four' as I like to call them, share one thing in common: their continual identification with Warp which has made the UK independent label the cult brand in electronic music, it remains today. The elite members are of course: Aphex Twin, Autechre, Squarepusher...and last, but certainly not least, Boards of Canada. It's the latter outfit - the duo of Scottish brothers Michael Sandison & Marcus Eoin - that have established themselves for being the most mysterious and depth-inducing musically of the four. With great respect to [far] more than just the three others mentioned, BoC (as they are commonly abbreviated to) are repeatedly brought up by fans and fellow musicians alike, because of such mystery. In a realm of (what was at the time) phenomenal creativity, they themselves stood to defy the same methods of which were being practiced. Diversity within diversity, or a complete contrast therein.

Music Has The Right To Children, from the start, was always going to induce a state of conflict and ill-advised confusion, even if at the most minimal of levels. A seventeen-track album where only nine pass the conventional three-minute mark? The rest, one-minute interludes or album breathers perhaps? At this point, Wildlife Analysis could be forgiven/forgotten as simply a gentle welcoming into BoC's reality. The track alludes to the dreamy, nostalgic utterances that succeed it, but in no way does it pave any suggestion that what we are about to enter is, as we quickly come to realize, of any real flux or rift in identity. An Eagle In Your Mind, however, leaves no stone unturned in making sure the listener can as much visualize the atmospherics as they do experience it firsthand. BoC's skill is showing a terminus amount of patience and attention to detail in slowly unveiling their grainy flutters of sound, as opposed to telling. From the murmuring ambiance to the choppy synthesizers and [almost child-like] stenciled cut-ups of vocals teetering away as quickly as they emerge, everything acts simply as a reveal rather than a composition. Yet there stands no real driving force, no underlining dominance of a beat; the textural clicks and pops of percussion too act accordingly and never attempt to take over. It's only just after the four minute mark that we get a drumbeat. But still, the slightly dazed and spatial uncertainty suggests this track is in a state of, what might be, recollection...or could possibly be something altogether more revealing emotively.

This leads me, and fittingly quick in its emergence, to one of the remarkable feats and characteristics to BoC's aesthetic: the youthfulness of past days. Such is the simplicity of The Color Of The Fire - the first 'interquel' track so to speak that we come to - that all it requires a wavering, slightly hesitant uttering of a child proclaiming it's love for someone, and the magic of past dazes comes to life. It is of course the music's brief bliss of colourful keys and earth-trodding pitches in the background that certainly create the atmosphere. But it's the sampling of what is, as noted, a voice coming across hesitant at first and gradually finding the confidence to speak, that paints quite an intimate and closely-bonded scene. The idea that Canada simply offer what's required, comes into its own on Telephasic Workshop - a track that, on a surface level, shows little change and variation, yet is one of the most fluent and fluid of the duo's tracks here. The way each component enters the fray and then slides against one another's momentum like tectonic plates ready to rupture - crust after crust  after mountainous crust of dense beats, bubbly synths and tittering slices of vocals - offers both momentum and delivery, yet at the same time (as the track slowly reveals to us as the composition progresses) a state of tension and collision. And not only does the increased chatter of vocals agitate the mix in a remarkably pleasant fashion, the adding swirl of rhythm and pacing adds a further dimension to what is already a multilateral delivery of sound.


But while the delivery may conjure some interesting relations and textures, the one underlining charm about this record, is its simplicity. Take a track like Sixtyten and BoC offer littler deviation from their boggling of synthesizer sound and weighty drum beats. But in some bizarre, unexpected turn of events, the charm in how the duo match these sounds with the shaky, lucid quality to the vocals and the overall production makes the music act less a conventional instrumentation, and more this nostalgic recollect of something once locked in the past. And with the way Turquoise Hexagon Sun offers its synth rhythm and delivery of electronic pads and keys makes out the context of Canada's music is less to progress towards a future moment, but rather return to a past opportunity. The way these sounds swirl and blur into one another makes out for a fond, yet concise resurfacing of past memories, but what these memories are remains to be seen. The background muttering of adolescent voices could allude to one theme, while the looming cloud of bass and electronic toning could lead us directly into another. Nothing is never fully confirmed or clarified; the music becomes this sonic limbo for which the listener is neither stuck at home base nor successfully reached their pivotal destination.  

Bocuma & Roygbiv's episodic emphasis on more an emotive dialogue then, seems to play the opening prelude to (as equally the second half of the album) the resulting sequence of events whereby this nostalgic recollect of past endeavors or youthful flair, finally hits us deep. The former's light-twinkling, futurist send-off soon gives way to the latter's dramatic retelling of a former innocence. And despite the track's two-and-a-half minute limitation, it's one of the most captured and direct of the tracks on the album. Benefited by the sheer directness of both the legato of bass beats and arpeggio of keys that emanate a strong aroma of youth, and a visage of one's former care-free bliss, the track similarly wavers through with the same cloudy, half-aware boggle of vision. Six minutes is roughly how long the beat driving Rue The Whirl lasts for, and rarely does the grainy, static texture of its beat change. Yet, remarkably, none of its mysterious flutter or tense spiraling lead of tone, ever end up stale or inconclusive. It's what takes place around it - the warped drone of analog sound, the arctic ambiance, the latter addition of those same weightless, gravitation of arpeggios - that take away what doubt or challenge of appeal the beat creates, and instead replaces with the idea that this is the supposed journeying through the void of memory we've been lead up towards. 

By the time we make our way past the auspicious whirl (that's neither benevolent nor malevolent in character), Aquarius sounds and performs like the welcoming party to our trip down an emotive, and nostalgic, memory lane. But it's not just the technique of returning to this past state that Canada perfect so brilliantly. If there's one word fans will bring up when asked for associations with the duo it's 'orange'. And while Aquarius' bumbling, slow-nodding, and slightly naive delivery of beats and atmosphere works because it addresses the concept of nostalgia and recollect as more than just a mentally visual escapism, the reference to a fruit equally creates charm, because of the loose firing-off of potential ideas and themes this may imply. It's a moment and an opportunity to base things more from the perspective that matters: your own. Canada's keeping to maintaining their electronic sound in this ambiguous, indecisive range of emotion - neither proclaiming joy, nor denouncing sorrow or shock at the same time - plays well to the track's careless, unashamedly charming casualness, but it's this lazed care-free nature that bring to light the youthful attraction so many can apply onto our historcial selves as former kids. The fact we get two opposing voices of adults and children though - showing little awareness of one another, or even a musical context as to why they're even presiding over the piece, 'Orange/Yeh that's right' - adds to this wide-grinning, bliss of yesteryear. Even when we get the approaching counting-up from the female equivalent like some first-year maths class, it's neither patronizing nor indulgent. It's simply adding to the track's colourful sentience amid what is still an analogous, shape-shifting of sonic textures and consciously-sought ideas.

But I wouldn't go as far as to say this record is not without questioning itself or - in the case of most albums - risking the humble status quo, so as to garner more melodic and harmonic status. Olson's somewhat melancholic suggestion and grittier slide of synthesizers may not dispel the clarity of the track's atmosphere, but it definitely leads the listener down a differing avenue emotively. Pete Standing Alone then comes across more self-analytical and even despondent of its current situation; the less upbeat harmony and slurred melody of the piece conflicting, rather than playing, with the crunchier texture of percussion and beats. But the way these harmonics offer something of a controlled alteration to what's been offered previous, things feel as much content with their new-found anxiety, as they do uncomfortable with the very idea. The latter arrhythmic delve the drumbeats begin to explore with, certainly suggest one of two things: that sadly we're approaching the end of our personal trip down memory lane, or what we're about to experience is far less of a solitude and requires more than some voluntary lapse in formal address. Once more though, I itterate, nothing is ever set in stone on what the outcome of this discovery will be - Open The Light's gentle passage of synths and obscuring harps definitely has that 'on the eve of...' anticipation, but emotively, there's a tenderer leaning in its send-off, as if to draw reassurance and comfort for not just us the listener (the one experiencing), but too itself...the supposed instigator to such atmospherics.

Boards of Canada don't come to a record with intentions to tell or explain, or even solidify on concept what something may mean. What they remind us of instead - and prove powerfully so - is that the unseen elements beyond the conventions of music - beyond its tone, its pitch, its structure, even its delivery - stem from the individual. This existentialist stance, while not entirely new in aesthetical terms, is something that here brings an even deeper internalization on how we react to imagination in its most abstract or intimate of extremes, and use it to seek comfort, or maybe despair, with which we understand. That familiarity, as we discover, stems down to that of being young and free - not in a physical manner, but in an illustratively responsive one. Music Has The Right To Children, as its name cleverly suggests, shows electronic music (despite its non-orchestral complexity) can easily conjure the need to look beyond our presence, and ask for ourselves what is it about us as humans that give sound its added moving/engaging/uplifting/deflating quality. But deciding not in overly dictating where, or even what, the end goal should be, this freedom and liberty from static context, takes on a whole other life on its own. And through it, this hour-plus voyage of translucent beats, foggy electronics and half-present imagery, conjures not just the opportunity to take to idea-generation in the same way a child would, it slowly, intensely, and at times playfully, offers up the biggest truth of all: creatively whatever age...deep down, we never do grow from out such childish innocence.
~Jordan

9.6

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