Review: Boards of Canada – Music Has the Right to Children/Geogaddi/The Campfire Headphase (vinyl reissues)
Published on October 22nd, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
Point of order: we’re not actually basing these reviews on this week’s vinyl reissues, just using their release as an excuse to clamber back inside our iTunes and pick the bones anew out of three great Boards of Canada albums.
The June release of their long-awaited fourth album Tomorrow’s Harvest supplies the most obvious vantage point for reassessment; “how do they look now?” an optician might say, standing unnervingly close to you and switching the lens of a hulking, Transformers-like contraption slung around your crown.
Tomorrow’s Harvest has been roundly praised, more so perhaps than any Boards of Canada release since 1998’s irrefutable classic of a debut album Music Has the Right to Children.
We at Rocksucker, however, weren’t so keen, and we weren’t just being willfully contrarian when we described it in our review as “too uneventful and too reconcilable with their previous work to make much of an impact”.
To our ears, it’s the first Boards of Canada LP to feel perfunctorily them. Not that Music Has the Right to Children, 2002 followup Geogaddi and 2005’s The Campfire Headphase don’t share a bucketload of traits…of course they do, but there’s a marked progression across all three that, without being the sole manifestation of their genius, certainly plays its part.
Sure, there’s a slightly different spread of colours across Tomorrow’s Harvest, but it doesn’t feel channelled from that same, oddly sacred place where distorted childhood memories are dissolved in thick swathes of lysergic menace.
That is to say that these first three albums remain stunning. Music Has the Right to Children carries the most hypnotic properties, gradually stacking up sticky, glitchy rhythmic elements like some sinister kind of musical Tetris, through the cracks of which ooze luminous globules of enchanted analog synth.
Radiohead’s Kid A was one notable residue; Thom Yorke made no secret of that. Stark as that particular landscape could get, though, it was never as downright chilling as Music Has the Right to Children was when it mined the Aphex Twin vault of detached children’s voices and wove a special new brand of sorcery over them.
Thing is, strip away this deeply unsettling topsoil and some of the beats are really quite funky; “Sixtyten” in particular could be the root of an experimental hip-hop track with its turntable-like smears of vocal samples, while “Turquoise Hexagon Sun” shuffles DJ Shadow-ishly along underneath its spookily resonant droplets of keys.
“Roygbiv” is gloriously incongruous, perhaps the only Boards of Canada track that could conceivably soundtrack a kids’ TV show from the ’70s rather than be some nightmarish reimagining of one.
It’s not hard to imagine Mount Kimbie’s recent Cold Spring Fault Less Youth album being influenced by “Rue the Whirl”, or Moderat by “Pete Standing Alone”…like we said, it’s a classic debut.
Geogaddi brings those analog synths further to the fore for a set of slow sonic lava flows that worm their way around your cerebral cortex leaving a trail of psychedelic fire in their wake.
It sounds more assured of what it’s setting out to do, as if it’s thrusting more emphasis on what others perceived Boards of Canada’s strengths to be. You might view this as refinement or recession into formula; either way, it was transfixing then and it transfixes now.
Fluffy transmissions of old nature documentaries and the like intersperse the brooding, disturbed trunk of the album, emboldening it as might flecks of different colours amidst one prevailing colour.
Beats flicker and squelch past more than they assemble themselves into funky patterns, while the album is frequently strewn with fluttery high-end sounds that, in their flute-ish sort of way, point towards the more organic textures of The Campfire Headphase.
If you ask Rocksucker, The Campfire Headphase was afforded a very raw deal indeed; we could see how some might dismiss it as “Geogaddi with guitars”, but this would be to deny themselves another thoroughly immersive listening experience.
Really it comes down to whether the tunes are up to it, which they resoundingly are. That they manage to wring identifiably Boards of Canada dreams out of an acoustic is testament to their unique vision, one that hadn’t yet outstayed its welcome, at least to our ears.
The Campfire Headphase is also distinct for the more considered arrangement of its mix, with little hooks and melodic elements dotted thoughtfully around the spectrum to inhabit their own little spaces and coexist from distance rather than smush together into a thick paste of synthery.
It’s the kind of attention to detail that was afforded to the rhythm section on Music Has the Right to Children, and it works a charm. You feel like you could reach into the mix and scoop out individual parts, something that’s deeply satisfying beyond our ability to adequately explain why it is so.
Perhaps it’s because they feel more like three dimensional tableaux, a more lucid insight into dreams already dreamed. It felt like it was revealing something to us, something that Tomorrow’s Harvest, for all its lushness, failed to expound upon.
You may well disagree. Any which way, Music Has the Right to Children, Geogaddi and The Campfire Headphase constitutes one of music’s great trilogies in Rocksucker’s book.
Rocksucker says: Four and a Half Quails out of Five!