You are receiving this broadcast as a dream

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There was a seven year wait between Trans Canada Highway and the next Boards of Canada’s release (eight if you only care about LPs)—in music, that can feel like an eternity. There was a decade transition, a whole new world; I’d say that the recording industry in 2013 was a completely different beast than it was in 2006, but um, don’t press me on the details. I’ve mentioned before that BoC cultivated a rather rabid and obsessive fan base, and those are the kinds of people who could wait for over half a decade, anticipating, imagining, concocting all the different things the duo could create when the silence finally ended. Looking at Youtube, it seems like several of BoC’s miscellaneous and obscure tracks were uploaded, by different users, around the same time in 2009, roughly about halfway between releases; obviously, the fans kept themselves busy, but it’s clear they were still anticipating what would come next.

I didn’t know anything about BoC at the time, but I remember 2013. Something about the whole year felt off, an underlying vein of foggy unknown snaked in and out of my consciousness as the seasons wore on. Part of it was probably where I was in life at the time—you know how it is, post-something, nothing in the time ahead to really think about (I think I may have mentioned all this before…) Was I afraid of nothing, as in, the concept of nil, null, emptiness? You’d think the feeling would be neutral, as a big zero offers nothing to anticipate or dread, no reason to look ahead at all, really. There was no rut for me to be stuck in yet, I was still just taking a breather, yet something was developing beneath the surface and I could feel it but couldn’t name it.

What I’m saying is that I probably would have “got” this album if I had listened to it when it was new, even if the exact reason why eluded me. I was just in this sort of frame of mind.

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The Road Is a World Outside the World

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Boards of Canada probably couldn’t make another album like Geogaddi even if they wanted to—it had come from an infectiously dark mindset, and if it could be captured again, would only be wading ever deeper into the abyss. It should come as no surprise that they would change things up when the next release dropped, and it turned out to be almost a complete 180—The Campfire Headphase really is something different from their previous albums, even if it still thoroughly feels like one of theirs. Excised are the cacophonous walls of sound, pared down to a more efficient selection of electronic and analog sources including, for the first time, acoustic guitar (distorted in the traditional Boards way or not); the shadowy meditations and prankishness found on the whole Music Has The Right To Children through Geogaddi sequence has been replaced with something more serene and meditative; more importantly, I think, is the choice of making the album far more holistic, an extended and sustained pursuit of a single atmosphere and theme. This is not to say that the previous albums were not thematically coherent—I don’t know how I would have written two blog posts about them if they weren’t—but each song still tended to be its own little world; Headphase prefers to have its individual tracks flow more naturally from one to another, which seamlessly drives the listener to each place, even if that sometimes makes some tracks feel like they blur together and lack the individuality of many of the songs on something like Music. There are valid reasons why someone may see all this as a comedown from the eclectic experimentation of their previous music—and, you know, hearing some acoustic guitar sometimes brings up images of the lone douchebag strumming along at a party—which is probably why this never received the critical praise the other albums did. Even so, there’s something affecting about the quiet sparseness of it, and the way it gently guides you to different places within its theme—as the name implies, it is a bit of a trip.

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Through the Magic Window

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There couldn’t be a better transitional work between Music Has The Right To Children and Geogaddi than In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country; the change in mood from one album to the next makes more sense with that four-song sequence placed between them, containing elements of both while also being something wholly singular. Music took the nineties electronica Boards of Canada had experimented on in their earlier albums and used it as the cytoplasm for their distinct mix of phantasmal samples, whimsy, and strange references; if that album is a representation of the act of remembering, then Beautiful Place seems to be one of actually looking at those old, dusty things you remember, experiencing them as they are (I mean, the closing track is called “Zoetrope”). The warmer synths on the previous album are edged out by a more repetitive, mechanical sounds, especially in the first two songs—the worn, grinding functionality of the beats at the base of something like “Kid For Today” trade the ephemeral for something that feels way more physical, like it is being played from some old sound machine that’s barely holding together. That holds for the title track, which seems a bit more “traditional” BOC if only for the inclusion of laughing children and straight drum machines, but still maintains the starkness of the rest of the album. Importantly, though, it also very quietly segues into another one of the duo’s full-scale obsessions: yes, if naming a song after an important figure in the story of the Branch Davidians didn’t clue you in, quoting that same person a the later song tells us we’re now in full-on religious cult and symbolism territory. It’s the year 2000, and Boards of Canada is thinking about some things.

Thus, we come to Geogaddi.

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ORANGE

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I only started listening to Boards of Canada in the last year, after a friend gave me a digital download of Music Has The Right To Children he received with a vinyl purchase, but sometimes it feels like I’ve been listening to them for a lot longer. Maybe it was just the obsessive immersion of the endeavour, deep diving through their entire release catalogue over the course of nine or so months (every LP, every EP, even some of the obscure stuff when I could find it), or reading the entries on their fan-made wiki that were clearly written by actual obsessive weirdos, but a duo that wasn’t even really on my radar before that initial download has very steadily wormed its way into my soul in subtle ways. Listening to their music again and again, I’m reminded of very specific periods of my own life, times long before I had ever listened to that music (and sometimes before I even got into electronic music in the first place), and began to conflate the atmosphere of the albums with those times. It feels like a strange intrusion on my psyche, but I can argue to myself that maybe if I had known about this music back then, I’d be really into it and make the connection organically; would my life have been any different had I been listening to Boards of Canada back then?

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