Boards Of Canada

By Elizabeth Wells

Ask any BOC enthusiast what they associate with Boards’ musical style, and many will cite their preoccupation with the sounds of wildlife, children’s laughter: voices recalling a bygone and possibly more innocent age. Boards trade unashamedly in the currency of nostalgia (one can see this in their latest penchant for kaleidoscopic images of children taken in the 1970s, playing or peering with curiosity into the camera as if looking out at us, their future selves). Musically they match this cut ‘n' paste of the past with haunting melodies made with analog synth pads in minor keys. The result is simple but unmistakably atmospheric: their keynote sound, honed to perfection in the acclaimed 1998 LP, Music Has the Right to Children.

Bearing in mind the level of anticipation (after a wait of well over three years) this latest release has generated, it is inevitable that the crowd piling into the Union Chapel, Islington to hear the first airing would be holding its collective breath. Certainly the setting was more than conducive to a contemplative listening experience; lit only by candles and electric heaters, the chapel seemed an appropriate venue for a reverentially awaited album whose opening track sampled children discussing the concept of God and Heaven.

The album’s length seems generous; as before gaps between longer tracks are punctuated by interludes of samples: water gurgling, newsreaders commenting on natural disasters, melodies put through filters that render them wobbly and far away, as if recorded on old tape. However, unlike before, these no longer seem like the appetising preludes to the main course, but stand out as creative highlights in themselves, illustrating the creative ethos that less is definitely more. It’s as if BOC don’t deal in mystery anymore; they still understand how to write music that feeds into the language of the subconscious, but where they used to play their cards close to their chest now they’re playing them indiscriminately. It’s not that the tracks go on too long, it’s just that nothing much happens.

Where tracks such as Happy Cycling (on the Peel sessions release) built up to a seductive crescendo, these latest tracks reveal themselves too soon. The basslines may be satisfyingly crunchy, snares and breakbeats slope along at that lazy, sexy pace so typical of BOC, pads sweep over your ears to lull you in a womb-like swash of synth, but it all happens within the first few bars, leaving nowhere for the track to go. Certainly they have built on the almost-poppy nature of the last EP, and heads were definitely nodding along to some stand-out tracks, but there were no playful little surprises, no detours into a more deconstructive approach to melody.

This is still a good album, and should raise BOC’s profile even more, but in terms of pushing the envelope, no, Boards are treading the safe path of well-worn territory.
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