Album Review: Boards of Canada’s ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’
From the opening horns of “Gemini” to the fading strands of the album’s closer, “Semena Mertvykh,” there isn’t a moment on Boards of Canada’s Tomorrow’s Harvest where you wonder who the artist is. There has been a veritable silence from the direction of Scottish brothers Marcus Eoin and Mike Sandison since the 2006 EP, Trans Canada Highway. The silence has ended and we are all the better for it.
Tomorrow’s Harvest isn’t a rebuild from the ground up; nor is it a retread of past glories. This is an album showing artists being true to themselves and not being anything but what they’ve always been. What’s that? Purveyors of the past and sound tweakers of the future. For a lot of folks the feeling you get listening to a Boards of Canada album is nostalgia. It’s the sound of Juno Synths, Yamaha DX-7s, distorted breakbeats, and a childhood set to repeat play on a Quasar Hi-Fi VCR.
With masterpieces like Music Has The Right To Children, Geogaddi, and The Campfire Headphase, Boards of Canada had a main line into childhood – not a Disney childhood, or an ABC Afterschool Special childhood. Rather, a ‘latch key kid’ childhood. A darkened living room with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a can of New Coke, watching something you shouldn’t on The Movie Channel because your Mom forgot to lock the channel. It’s a childhood of wonder, but with dark spots that could lead to something darker. Tomorrow’s Harvest is the soundtrack to a Choose Your Own Adventures book, a walk home from the city park late at night, or a car ride to the roller skating rink.
“Telepath” is a perfect example of what Boards of Canada do so well. The sound of a man talking and counting would be harmless enough, but it’s what they do to it: they process it, taint it, make it into almost something Orwellian and create something dark out of it. Synths float in the background as the counting becomes more drawn out and more unintelligible. Next, they lead us right into “Cold Earth” with a swath of warm keys and a big beat that brings to mind some sort of futuristic scene. The soundtrack to a new installment of Ice Age, perhaps.
Lead single, “Reach For The Dead,” permeates with a menace via an analog hiss as if a record needs to be flipped. Then a theme emerges through the noise – something resembling a past life soaking in through the present one. It took a few listens, but this song is nearly transcendent in how it works its magic on you. “New Seeds” brings a pep in Boards of Canada’s step not heard in earlier tracks. There seems to be less of the media clips from earlier albums and more of Marcus and Mike’s own magic used to create those lonely days of childhood where you were left to fend for yourself. Another track, “Come To Dust,” is a sci-fi dream, floating in the ether.
“Reach For The Dead” – Boards of Canada from Tomorrow’s Harvest on Warp Records
I’ve had to sit with this album for a week before I could attempt to put my feelings about it into words. Even now, I’m not sure I can do this album justice. Tomorrow’s Harvest doesn’t change up or replicate Boards of Canada’s past. What it does is refine their sound to its essence. They make the synthetic seem organic. That’s been their gift since the beginning. Tomorrow’s Harvest ranks as one of their finest achievements, and one of the best albums of the year so far. Good to be back in Boards of Canada’s head space; or head phase.
J. Hubner is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to Indie Rock Cafe.