Boards of Canada Tomorrow's Harvest(Warp) Buy it from Insound
The buildup for a Boards of Canada return was very…Boards of Canada, wasn’t it? Secret Record Store Day 12”’s, hidden numerical codes under feedback, password protected websites, video screenings in Tokyo, desert listening parties – these methods of building hype would seem overly strange and elaborate coming from most artists, but from Boards of Canada, you kind of expect them to go out of their way to be cryptic like that. BoC hardly needed to work so hard to generate buzz for their long awaited return, but it’s this peculiarity, attention to detail, and overall presence of a secret organization rather than two Scottish musicians that has preserved the duo as such a fascinating entity for all these years. Nowhere has this been more prevalent, however, than in their records, and Tomorrow’s Harvest, the duo’s latest, is a perfect reminder of how well these two can bring their unique aesthetic to life through music.
With seven years passing since the release of their last album, 2006’s Trans Canada Highway EP, and nary a peep regarding when a new record would be finished until this April, it’s no small statement that the influential electronic duo’s new release is a MAJOR comeback in a year of major comebacks. So this raises the question: What kind of a comeback album is this? Have the reclusive duo spent the last seven years incorporating new influences and transforming their sound, or will they simply pick up right where they left off? You may have expected them to take a few notes from the ever fluctuating landscape of electronic music these days, but this is Boards of Canada we’re talking about, and their insular nature is not about to change.
In this sense, Tomorrow’s Harvest compares greatly to that of My Bloody Valentine’s latest release, mbv, a stunning comeback album that only marginally tweaked the groups sound yet still sounded significant. Tomorrow’s Harvest, likewise, is unmistakably a Boards of Canada record. All of the basic elements we’ve come to expect from the duo’s music – whirling, organic synth melodies, hip-hop-inspired drum beats, the occasional jarring vocal sample – are utilized as strongly as ever, and it wouldn’t be hard to imagine tracks like the grooving, sun-streaked Cold Earth or the blissfully ambient Sundown appearing on past albums like Music Has the Right to Children or Geogaddi. But even saying those tracks are good enough to appear on such classic albums is a strong enough statement, and the fact that the album as a whole lives up to this is an even bigger one. Tomorrow’s Harvest’s greatest strength is how it brings the classic Boards of Canada sound into the modern age and makes it feel totally fresh and alive again – a rare feat for almost any electronic artist.
But this doesn’t mean that the duo simply rehashed Geogaddi and called it a day. Each Boards of Canada record comes with its own unique feel and design choices, and Tomorrow’s Harvest is no different in this sense. Tomorrow’s Harvest will likely be considered Boards of Canada’s “cinematic” album, as it apparently does draw inspiration from the chilly futurism of classic sci-fi soundtracks. Opener Gemini, for instance, is perfect for a moody opening credits sequence – the little horn/keyboard tone at the beginning is even there for the production company theme. The track then moves on to Reach for the Dead, a perfect atmospheric slow burner, and White Cyclosa, where twitchy synth pops make for a great John Carpenter impression. Aside from this intro, however, it would be hard to imagine much of Tomorrow’s Harvest – save for a few lush, creepy interludes – fitting well into the score of a movie like Escape from New York.
That’s because the more full-length tracks present here are some of the most thorough and complete that Boards of Canada have ever composed. A number of these tracks even hint at some fresh ideas for the duo, or at least some old ideas re-purposed in new, interesting ways. Take Jacquard Causeway, the album's longest and most gut-wrenching, which takes familiar synth lines and drum patterns and twists them into unrecognizable shapes, creating a seasick vortex of aching melodies. Later-album track New Seeds also stands out due to a brittle, decayed dance groove, which sounds more peppy and energetic than it does dark. But while these new sounds are impressive, sometimes the more familiar stuff can be even more engaging, as blissful moments like the dramatic Come to Dust and the aural Nothing Is Real, which is perhaps built on the most perfect BoC synth line yet, show how the duo have pretty much perfected their trademark technique and kept it as totally enthralling as ever.
Electronic music, both on the EDM and IDM spectrum, has always had a very difficult time with aging, as it seems that each advancement in a genre or new, fresh movement makes the older interpretations seem more obsolete. Boards of Canada have always been one of the best examples of how to make timeless electronic music, as even their oldest records are as warm and hypnotic as they were back when they were released. But in their long absence, an important question grew in the minds of those who anticipated their return: Could Boards of Canada captivate people with new material the same way they did in the past? It’s been a long wait, but Tomorrow’s Harvest provides an answer so clear, it almost makes you feel stupid for ever doubting them.21 June, 2013 - 04:44 — Peter Quinton