Boards Of Canada :: Tomorrow’s Harvest (Warp)

Tomorrow’s Harvest achieves a kind of re-route, as if seeking to achieve triptych, somewhere sequential with the psycho-ambient-chill of MHTRTC and the ambivalent wooze-out of Geogaddi.

Following a campaign of mystique-making—from ltd 12”s secreting arcane numerology to a Tokyo teaser, the Boards are back in town. Sounding? Boards-like! No surprise there. Nor in that some have seen fit to bury them for it. We come here, however, to praise them. The buriers were looking for… what exactly? Style updates? OK, dalliance could be entertained–—a discreet nod towards Dubstep (here, maybe?), but surely no-one would’ve had them divert. Where to? To flirt with Footwork, rub up against R’n’B? Of course not. A rich audio-visual aesthetic—with a psychoactive mythology of two decades vintage embedded—so compelling an influence on IDM-people far and wide as to have become virtually a genre in itself (and resonating now even more with the Zeitgeist)—and you’d have them abandon it? No. In a world of bandwagon-jumping chancers, far from a slating for being ‘safe,’ kudos is due the duo for self-integrity. While there is a certain safety in Tomorrow’s Harvest, there’s a spirit of inquiry too; sufficient to retrieve those who baled out at The Campfire Headphase, a propos of which Simon Reynolds had observed: ‘there’s a thin line between developing your own vocabulary and coining your own set of cliches, and we should probably applaud BoC’s attempt to extend their palette.’ (Guardian, 2005), while, for many, its coffee-table comedown beach-party vibe had rapidly palled. Tomorrow’s Harvest achieves a kind of re-route, as if seeking to achieve triptych, somewhere sequential with the psycho-ambient-chill of MHTRTC and the ambivalent wooze-out of Geogaddi.

“Gemini” sets out, eerie, dissonant, windblown, to a muffled fanfare, channeling Blade Runner through a 70s schools programme on dark matter. Synths spool auto-mimetic melodies over a granular churn. “Reach For The Dead” just keeps building tense-and-nervous ambiance, breaking into post-dope beats with sombre pads trip(-hop)ping the dark fantastic. “White Cyclosa” is all analog blue-skied (but not clear) arpeggiating retro-futurism, Carpenter-esque shadows falling late on. Returning to lo-fi source (cf. A Few Old Tunes), “Jacquard Causeway” mauls a tape-saturated motif enmired in FX/noise with a clunky off-beat snare/snap-shot; more ramblings of a madman than Madlib as sounds pile on repetitive boom-bap, closing in unnervingly till a luminous swell washes all away.  “Cold Earth” soars, choral, Orientalist, teeming with vocals sutured in skittering half-step beats. The usual interludes punctuate. They leave the palate, if not cleansed, then refreshed: “Telepath” receives time-stretched messages secreted in static and hum; similarly “Transmisiones Ferox,” an assemblage of rocket blast-off, subaquatic frequencies, pulsations, and more vox/vex-ations. “Collapse,” angst and atmo-building, again a-swim in alien transmissions, while “Uritual” streams synthetic didge-drone. More extendedly: “Sick Times”—a sub-hiphop “Telephasic Workshop” update with a warbling rattling low end. “Palace Posy”—at once playful and eerie with its near-tribal slo-mo beat, bass-boing and string flurries. “Split Your Infinites”—creeped out and deep, synth-lines veering off gesturing to the eponymous—post-industrial sci-fi meets Knackered (out-)House? “Nothing Is Real”—the ghost of “Roygbiv,” less blithe and breezy than coy and cloudy, albeit silver-lined with Avalanchean mien. “Sundown” signals comedown, though more dying star than Café Del Mar. A certain unquiet plays at the edges of a pacificity, akin to an old Eno favourite, teasing with a feint toward resolve. Something is wrong—but what it is ain’t exactly clear. Pressing on: “New Seeds”—big with tech-y echo-swathed synth, cellphone squall looped to rhythm, again slow’n’low, widescreen swells layered with laser-guided melody. “Come to Dust”—a thudding cosmic techno variant, taking (post-)dubstep cues, is a reprise on “Reach for the Dead,” and on to “Semena Mertvykh” (‘seeds of the dead’-hinting at themes elsewhere), a drawn out drone road that leads… nowhere. Endpoint.

This, then, is as near as you get to BoC Version Nihil, so synth-spooked at times it could even be a Death Waltz, though more likely tapping in to a strain of ’70s Cold War paranoia seen in Deadly Harvest, a low-budget film portending climate change, massive crop failures in N. America, and a resulting collapse of social order. Titles (“Cold Earth,” “Sick Times,” “New Seeds”) and artwork connect to a nu-age-cum-sci-fi hybrid IDM variant of eerie inflection to set a tone of Zeitgeist-Angst, while still a-glow(er) with signature secondhand nostalgia streamed via atavistic Yamaha CSs, suitably turquoise hexagon sun-struck, weathered and beaten up. Ample sample-babble to drive anorak-y BoCee-bies to decoding distraction; plenty post-Kosmische wibble to rival Nu analog-jammers like OPN and Laurel Halo. The territory—if not the map—may have been occupied by a new breed of nostalgists like the Ghost Box-ers, but BoC remain unique in electronica for the strange affective freight of an ostensibly ambiguous music. For all that this Harvest is bitter, the yield is substantial. There’s a craft and canniness at work in the remake/remodel of their devices and desires—a few newies (“Cold Earth,” “Nothing Is Real,” “Split Your Infinites” and “Come to Dust”) potentially as big as a few old tunes. The new Boards have been polished, tech toned up—bass bassier, drums drummier, synths synthier—while retaining what’s made them great. The past inside the present…

Tomorrow’s Harvest is available on Warp. [Release page | Bleep]

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