What do you call Boards Of Canada’s music? There are equal times of not having a beat as much as having, and even at that it isn’t the hi-NRG BPM of chart-topping EDM. The melodies that form on some of the longer pieces are more thought-out and organic than a chill-out electronic organization like, say, The Orb and when I say “longer,” that might mean 4 minutes set against the one-to-two minute digressions that regularly dot their releases. That means that, while closer to some of Tangerine Dream’s more ambient work, Marcus Eoin and Michael Sandison haven’t yet crossed TD’s 15-minute expanse.
So that’s what the group, and their latest Tomorrow’s Harvest isn’t. What it is, and their many devotees will adamantly tell you, is hypnotic, chilly, very “human” with a sheen of otherworldly techno-graft set atop the skin. In essence, the music of Boards of Canada is like the dream of a robot that once was a human being, remembered with melancholy while accepting the state of what is “now.” That’s the hyperinflated prose version of a description. The bite-sized version is that the band makes soundtracks for films that don’t exist.
That’s never been more true than it is on Tomorrow’s Harvest. The opening “Gemini” has a pre-track audio tag, more like the theme of a production company credit, which then moves into the track proper. In interviews the two members themselves cite movie composers as a primary influence and, tellingly, these sounds are a simulation of what those soundtracks would have sounded like from the crappiest VHS versions of the movies, complete with audio warbles, dropouts, and a tentative grasp on audio fidelity.
Conceptually, that all works as the cover (which looks to be a city in a high smog sort of day) projects suitably unnerving visuals to music that sounds bleak. This is not the music of the post-apocalypse so much as it is the slow crawl into the apocalypse, while still being too late to alter the outcome. It is the moment one realizes all that is left is to reap the contaminated harvest (hence “Tomorrow’s Harvest”) because that’s all that awaits us. And so the music is as moody as you could imagine from that set up, but remains beautiful in its foreboding droning, the hums and buzzing being entrancing without actually being “trance.” (We really need someone to codify all these electro subgenres, don’t we?)
Snippets like “White Cyclosa” and “Telepath” bridge longer tracks like “Reach For The Dead,” “Cold Earth” and “Sick Times,” the titles only reaffirming the concept of the record. Yet there is no banner hanging over the project to remind you, and make you feel bad that, yes, you screwed up the environment, it is too late to do anything about it, and now you have to embrace your consequences and keep your mouth shut. Tomorrow’s Harvest is not explicitly meant to make you feel guilty. It’s not meant to make you feel anything other than what the music does to the individual listener at that moment. If it causes you a moment’s hesitation as you absorb it with your headphones on, laying down in your air-conditioned room as record breaking heat burns away outside, then that is all it needs to do. Tomorrow’s Harvest plants seeds, alright. What the album is is a gorgeous document of entropy and resignation.