Boards Of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest (Warp)
Available from 10th June 2013
Electronic duo Boards of Canada make a welcome return with new album Tomorrow’s Harvest, their first in 8 years. Louder Than War’s Craig Johnson has had time to listen to it, absorb its fine, detailed structure & write us the following review.
The word “hype” get’s thrown around a lot and depending on who you are, it can have a lot of different meanings. Firstly, for some, it can be a musical genre in it’s own right where people are only interested in seeing the latest “hype” band. Nonsense. For others, myself included, it’s a promotion technique often used to poor effect. Maybe it’s just my cynical view on life, but I always feel that bands trying to create hype around a new record tend to do it in a fairly basic and minimal way which then usually leads to a sub par product which doesn’t live up to the hype it spent so much effort generating!
Having said the above though I guess what I’m getting at is that if you want to learn how to create hype properly, you need to take a lesson from Boards of Canada. First things first, they’re a band that have been around for over twenty years and in that time have made some ground breaking music, building up a loyal and devoted fan base. They’re not just another “flavour of the month” band. The first announcement for Tomorrows Harvest, the band’s first studio album since 2005’s The Campfire Headphase, came to light from an extremely cryptic code that was to be solved and entered on the band’s website. After the internet got together in search of the magical solution, codes were found in extremely limited record store day releases. Eventually, the code was cracked and the album was properly announced to the world. That itself is enough to generate the sort of hype that gets “The Internet” jumping up and down with excitement. Following that we have listening parties in remote desert locations, video premieres in Japanese cities and then, eventually, a live streaming event showcasing the album in its entirety. That’s how to do it. After that sort of well calculated, thought provoking marketing plan you’d better come out with a good product! I’m here to tell you that all the secrecy and code breaking was worth it – Tomorrow’s Harvest is a fantastic record & a triumph.
I’m guessing that’s most of the people who are heavily into Boards of Canada tuned in for the début live stream of the album. I know I did. It was overwhelming. Yes, this is ambient music but it’s so well crafted and has so much depth that even after a few listen you still only manage to skim the surface. This is sound layered upon sound, layered upon sound, with seemingly infinite reoccurrence. Honestly, it sounds like I’m over exaggerating for the purpose of this review but I’m not, it’s incredibly dense.
Jacquard Causeway has a sort of chiptune-esque opening but in a way that feels degraded and rusty, rather than bright or alive. It feels like it’s been resurrected from a long-lost vault of Gameboy sounds, still covered in dust and hardly running properly. I just love the way it feels like it’s collapsing in on itself. I can imagine playing this on a cassette Walkman when the batteries start to run out and the music starts playing at a slower speed than it’s meant to. That sort of degradation incites beauty in its purest form. An incredibly deep and layered world built under a seemingly innocent 8-bit façade. It’s that whole innocent sound, manipulated to show the cracks and the real meaning hidden deep inside it’s core. It’s beautiful.
In a contrasting way, album closer Semena Mertvykh feels like a world apart from the rest of the album. Like the end of an era, it seems to be a definite stopping off point. Not “post apocalyptic” as that insinuates something has already happened; this is “apocalyptic” – it feels like something is happening. It feels like the end, the eventual demise. A slow, pulsating drone may be a perfect way to end such an incredible album. After all, with so many different ideas flowing when do you call it enough? It can’t go on forever (although I sort of wish it did). There has to be some intervention and for me this feels like the perfect way to do it. It seems like it’s just a “right, that’s all you’re getting, enjoy” from the band.
The whole record seems to have an air of degradation about it. It’s like a slow, calm descent towards the end of the world. For instance, I had the album playing in my headphones while walking along a sunny riverside and while the outlook certainly seemed positive, I couldn’t help but picture everything coming to an end. It was a very calm end though; it was relaxing and comforting. Instead of imagining war or destruction, I could just picture the world slowly fading away. Colours blending into one another, details disintegrating and all that’s left is an empty space. A surreal thought, but one that I found extremely enjoyable and would like to revisit many times.
That’s what makes ambient music so enjoyable for me, it’s that journey into a different head space. Even if it’s only momentarily, it’s nice to just feel removed from the rest of the world. Tomorrow’s Harvest is a perfect example of how to make such music. Even though it isn’t a massive departure from their earlier work, it’s a welcome return. So many others have tried what Boards of Canada do. Some have failed and some have had a fair amount of success, but no one has even come close to matching that level of quality. To make something equally relaxing and frightening without sounding like you’ve done much at all is a true feat and a testament to the band.
After a good few listens to Tomorrow’s Harvest I feel like I still haven’t fully absorbed it. This is going to be one that gets regular airtime in my personal playlist, constantly there and always on hand to take me away from the stresses of reality.
Boards Of Canada have spread themsleves far & wide across the internets, you can find them at all these places: