March 1, 2002

Album Review: Boards go beep


Boards of Canada


What is the purpose of music? This isn't rhetorical. Seriously, what is the point of music? I spent a lot of time not doing homework and thinking about the answer to this question. I divided it into several other questions first, though. What do I enjoy about this music (why am I listening to it)? What is the intent of the musician(s)? Wait, where did that synth line come from? OK, never mind. Now what was I talking about? I can't remember

Oh, yeah. The point. What is the point — no, what is the purpose of this music? I'm listening to Boards of Canada's new album, Geogaddi, and I'm thinking that the purpose is this: total immersion. Or maybe here it's submersion. I can't tell anymore because every track just flows right into the next. Flow? Is that the right word? Let me explain why I'm having trouble finding the right word to describe this.

Boards of Canada (BOC) got their name from watching documentaries released by the National Film Board of Canada. (The song "Dandelion" uses a few samples of actor/comedian Leslie Nielsen's narration from one of these films.) So what does the music sound like? Is that it? That's what you want to know? Imagine yourself in some kind of pod that's heading for the ocean floor. I'm not kidding.

BOC has been described as pastoral, a word I love because of the way the word itself sounds. Their previous releases include the 2000 EP In a Beautiful Place out in the Country and the 1998 LP Music Has the Right to Children, both of which were released on Warp Records. Their music combines the odd clicks and bleeps one might encounter in the world of IDM (intelligent dance music) with beautifully drawn out synthesizer compositions.

Occasionally unsettling, often hauntingly familiar, BOC forces you to feel the weight of the energy they have infused into these hymnals. Specific songs rarely stand out, making Geogaddi feel like a whole piece of music whose force is multiplied tenfold when listened to as a single track. Listening to bits and pieces of this record will only make you lose your place.

But amazingly, musicians Marcus Eoin and Michael Sandison managed to create the perfect soundtrack to life. Walking down the street, you sense the passage of time more readily than ever before. Cars and birds and people begin to look like they're right out of a John Woo movie.

Geogaddi is the soundtrack to a high-speed car chase that can only end in ankle-deep blood. It's the soundtrack to falling in love. This is the soundtrack to your unconscious and the ocean.

So what is the purpose of music? In the case of BOC, I would say total immersion. Sounds come at you from nowhere in particular and always — always — lead you somewhere. The track "The Devil is in the Details" is extremely intense. Picture Alice in Wonderland eating a fistful of hallucinogenic mushrooms — like she needs them. The sound of a child laughing backwards and the oddly mechanical rustling of leaves. Am I outside? Or inside?

The constant references to mathematics and the ocean allow BOC to look for solutions here on this planet and not in the stars. An "Over The Horizon Radar" is a real form of military radar used to detect targets far removed from the optical horizon. "The Beach at Redpoint" is really in Scotland.

Boards of Canada may mean nothing to you, but as they say, "The Devil is in the Details." "1969" was the year of the Manson murders. If you play "You Could Feel the Sky" backwards, a voice says, "A god with horns" twice, giving credence to the title of the record: Geo — geometric; Gad — to run wild, to be uncontrolled; Di: — two, twice, double.

The album is exactly 66 minutes and 6 seconds long. This article is exactly 666 words long.