A tribute to Tony Allen, by Emma-Jean Thackray
After a promotional campaign on the scale – not only in terms of omnipresence in the music press but also in terms of sheer imagination and the power to surprise – of the one we recently saw from the Boards of Canada camp, there’s been more scrutiny on their new album ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’ than on most other releases this year (and 2013 is a year in which you just can’t say that lightly). With a campaign like that, the captive audience’s attention is constantly pushed to the release date, until it begins to seem like the moment at which you can buy the album is the point of climax at which it will all come together – that’s it, the music’s out and the campaign is done. Any Boards of Canada fan knows, though, that that’s only the beginning; the band’s releases have a way of gradually revealing their innermost secrets as time passes, and despite the monumental anticipation for and public devouring of this record, ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’ is just the same. Here’s ten thoughts on how to get the most out of listening to this fascinating, slow-burning release.
- Promotion burnout? The majority of the ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’ press campaign was really pretty fantastic – the numerical scavenger hunt to track down that mysterious “—— / —— / —— / —— / XXXXXX / ——” for example, and the way they were spread across various media sources – Radio 1, Adult Swim, NPR – as if melting into the cultural zeitgeist. Along with that, there was something also something kind of awesome about how the whole thing kicked off with something as simple as putting a 12” vinyl into a record store. But in a post-‘Random Access Memories’ mindset, you’d be completely forgiven for feeling sick of the sight of anything BoC-related by now. If you are still in the midst of that, then fair enough. Now that it’s actually out there in the world, you probably will be able to get by without being met with reminders of it everywhere you turn – and it’s safe to say this album hasn’t yet, and won’t ever, produce a Get Lucky style mega-hit. But if you don’t unbury your head from the sand at any point, you risk denying yourself a dazzling listening experience.
- Subtlety A passive half-listen while you’re doing the dishes or making dinner just won’t really hack it with ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’. Boards of Canada are about as subtle as you can get, and they only appear to have learnt how to be more so in the 8-year hiatus since ‘The Campfire Headphase’. Some of this seemed to get slightly lost through hosting a live stream of ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’: which, after all the cryptic hoo-ha build-up, promised that something monolithic was going to come with the big reveal. But instead what came was a Boards of Canada album: hazy, mysterious and very, very subtle. While many loved the collective listening experience, whole sections of Twitter appeared to be crying out, “Where’s the drop?”, as many appeared to be getting their IDMs and their EDMs tragically mixed-up.
- Lake Dolores Waterpark Far more intriguing was the listening party that took place at the abandoned Lake Dolores Water Park in Southern California. With more actual substance than the glitziness of Daft Punk’s bash up the top of the Shard – and one that was clearly much-loved and appreciated by the diehards in attendance – this venue couldn’t feel more logical for a BoC ambience if it tried. The sense of the ghostly memories of childhood’s past, a lingering unease in a place once home to an innocent state of joy and fun, is certainly on the same page as their 1998 debut ‘Music Has A Right To Children’. But along with the cover depicting a drained shot of the San Francisco skyline, there’s something that feels more overtly “American” in subject matter here than on previous BoC albums. With that image of the abandoned waterpark as a remnant of a decaying 1950s American idealism in mind – and peculiarly timed in the midst of devastating reveals regarding cyberspace – might ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’ be some kind of comment on today’s America?
Video streaming by Ustream
- Headphones You’ve got to listen to ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’ in headphones. You’ve got to listen to it in good, loud, in-ear headphones, if only to follow those miasmic crumbled voices that dare to whisper out towards the close of Sick Times, or to detect that single second of sound that Mike Sandison mentioned sourcing from an old piece of recording equipment in their recent Guardian interview.
- Analogue warmth Electronic musicians who are fetishists for antiquated equipment are ten a-penny these days: Kelpe, Secret Circuit and recent Kranky signee Justin Walter’s exploration of the EVI are some easy examples. But Boards of Canada take their fetishisation to a whole other level and are past-masters at it. When ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’ isn’t spooking the hell out of you, this comes through in the swathes of crystallised warmth that issue out from Cold Earth and Nothing Is Real.
- Reach For The Dead Rather like the live stream, you may feel that the first single Reach For The Dead got rather buried under all the album build-up, with many probably expecting something just a bit grander from the lead single after all those number puzzles and scampering around for clues. But Reach For The Dead is a tense, pulsating piece, with that almost-drop of drums around the mid-point seeing it congeal into one of ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’s’ most cohesive moments.
Boards of Canada – Reach For The Dead
- The narrative During the recent Guardian interview, Sandison stated: “it’s better if listeners find the narrative themselves, in the titles and the sounds.” Now, referring to “the narrative” implies there is actually one way of following the album, and he’s kind of implying it’s right there if you look hard enough for it (someone’s already worked out that Palace Posy is an anagram of “Apocalypse”). While I’m not sure I can devote much of my own life to seeking it out, I sincerely hope that someone does (hello, bocpages.org).
- Video nasty soundtracks What ‘Music Has A Right To Children’ was to state-sponsored kids documentaries, ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’ would seem to be to late 70s-early 80s grindhouse-style horror movie soundtracks. These featured on mostly US productions that would later be banned in the UK as moral panic reigned over their appearance on VHS – and were often a strange cocktail of synthesised sentimentality and brittle menace. There’s something quite unsettling in the clarity of the synthesised horn blasts – mimicking a film company jingle – that sound out on opener Gemini, one of the only moments of unblemished sonics throughout the entire piece. Not to mention the multiple growling voices competing on Telepathe.
- The final act The sequence of final tracks – New Seeds, Come To Dust and Semena Mertvykh is just a bit stupendous. The appropriately titled New Seeds is dizzying in the unforeseen positivity emanating from its tender close, before Come To Dust – like the growls of Leatherface’s chainsaw suddenly rip-roaring back into action, or the hand of Mrs. Voorhees reaching out of the lake at the end of Friday the 13th – aggressively knocks back the whiffs of hope. To say the pulsating Semena Mertvyk (Russian for “Seeds of the Dead”) leaves things on a note of uncertainty would severely understate the point.
- Live shows? Boards of Canada haven’t played live since 2001. That was a long time ago. “We’ve been busy in our rehearsal space lately, so never say never” was their recent response to there being any plans to take the album on the road. While it’s a long shot, you might as well get up to scratch on ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’ now to prepare for the hysteria if Mike and Marcus do decide to emerge out of the wilds of Scotland any time soon.
Boards of Canada – Telephasic Workshop live.