Boards Of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest

It’s been the year of grand returns, of nerd-beloved touchstones coming back after long silences and cranking out the cohesive studio products that we’d learned to stop expecting from them long ago. Studio-rat geniuses who haven’t given us proper albums in seven or nine or 22 years, people who’d been occupying themselves with side projects or terrible movies or Primal Scream third-guitar duties are suddenly leaving their studio-ratholes and letting us hear the mysterious platters that they’d been working on this whole time. And even more amazingly, nobody’s given us a Chinese Democracy-level turd yet — not even close. It’s been working out. The two biggest-selling Billboard weeks of the year belong to Justin Timberlake and Daft Punk, and they earned those spots by putting together slick and luxurious pillow-disco masterworks. Meanwhile, My Bloody Valentine pulled off the impossible and released a palatable follow-up to Loveless, and the Knife released a sprawling, forbidding mass of corrosive noise-electro and post-gender agitprop and somehow managed not to chase off their entire audience. All of these artists are coasting at least a little bit, and nobody’s managing (or, arguably, even trying) to outdo their past glories, but all these people have done great work and reminded us why we cared in the first place. At this rate, Dr. Dre will, with no warning, suddenly release Detox in August, and it’ll actually be good. And Tomorrow’s Harvest, the first new Boards Of Canada album in almost a decade, fits in quite nicely with the rest of them.

Of course, with all the other people mentioned in that first paragraph, we actually had some idea what was going on in their lives; even the elusive Kevin Shields was contributing music to Lost In Translation or whatever. But ever since the Trans Canada Highway EP in 2006, Boards Of Canada have just been silent; it’s like they’ve ceased to exist. Their rebirth, with its hidden numbers and mysterious Record Store Day 12″ singles and desert listening parties, has been, if anything, a reminder of the way things used to be, back when Warp Records was the label of Aphex Twin and Autechre instead of Grizzly Bear. (It’s still the label of Aphex Twin and Autechre, but you know what I’m saying.) Within the so-called intelligent dance music ranks of the late-’90s, BoC were actually among the friendliest; their Music Has A Right To Children was shot through with a melancholic melodic longing that helped the album fit in nicely alongside, say, Air’s Virgin Suicides soundtrack. (I spent serious quality time with my dorm-room carpet and those two albums in the CD changer.) And as pretentious as the build-up to Tomorrow’s Harvest has been, it’s also served as a fun, nostalgic reminder of the old standard IDM operating procedure. As it happens, though, that’s been the only nostalgic thing about Tomorrow’s Harvest.

Last week, I took my family camping in the Virginia mountains, and, partly as a way to amp myself up for Tomorrow’s Harvest, threw on a playlist of old BoC tracks when I was on a solo firewood run. It was perfect. I’d forgotten how gorgeously warm and pastoral those old tracks could be — how perfectly they could blend in with your life when you’re, say, admiring shafts of sunlight coming through a tree-canopy. Boards Of Canada have always done tense and ominous from time to time — parts of Geogaddi would make a perfectly effective horror-movie score — but that sense of warm, gently awed calm has always been central to what they do. On Tomorrow’s Harvest, it’s all but gone; the new album would sound absolutely wrong on that firewood run. The basic ingredients of the BoC sound are the same: The aqueous boom-bap drums, the muffled layers of vintage-synth hum, the decayed and fucked-around pieces of human speech. But this time around, all those elements seem to be working to convince us that something is wrong.

Hawkeyed readers will notice that I’ve said almost nothing about the actual music on Tomorrow’s Harvest. But, I mean, have you ever tried to talk about the music that Boards Of Canada make? The structural decisions, the subtle production touches, the synth tones! It’s really hard! Boards Of Canada have always made music that goes straight to the subconscious, that evokes feelings more than thoughts. And on Tomorrow’s Harvest, the feeling in question seems to be a dim, wriggling, all-pervading anxiety. The song titles offer a few clues here, evoking an earth after some cataclysmic event: “Cold Earth,” “Reach For The Dead,” “Collapse,” “Sick Times,” “Sundown,” “Come To Dust,” “Palace Posy” (rearrange the letters to get “apocalypse”). And the apocalypse that they’re considering doesn’t seem to be the sudden nuclear-flash variety. Instead, it seems to be the slow drip of unsustainable models slowly ruining things for the future: Environmental apathy, decaying economies, invisible human-rights violations, all working together to make the planet a tougher and tougher place to live. Maybe that’s tomorrow’s harvest. I’m projecting here, of course, but that’s what Boards Of Canada music makes you do.

That general creeping unease comes from the way the usual elements they keep in play, the loops and keyboard-washes and fucked-to-pieces vocal samples, seem to be just slightly out of sync, the rhythms and circles never quite aligning the way they once did. The comforting thrum of the duo’s old music is gone, but it seems to be just out of reach. Occasionally, they’ll give a glimpse of that old beauty, as with the sad humming on “Cold Earth” or the soft krautrock twinkles on “New Seeds,” but the reassurance never lasts long. The music is a pretty as it’s ever been, but not it feels like something is off. If Boards Of Canada are trying to tell us something with this album, they’ve picked a pretty circuitous way of doing it. But as it is, they’ve made a really great soundtrack album for the moments of your day where you’re stressing about things like money or illness or difficult personal-life decisions. They’ve made a great uncomfortable-ambiance album, one that sticks with you even in the moments when you wish it wouldn’t.

Tomorrow’s Harvest is out now on Warp.

Other albums of note out this week:

• Deafheaven’s grand, majestic, crushing Sunbather.
• The Lonely Island’s guest-jammed post-SNL move The Wack Album.
• Gold Panda’s prettily psychedelic electronic LP Half Of Where You Live.
• Sonny & The Sunsets’ lo-fi psych-pop concept album Antenna To the Afterworld.
• Lust For Youth’s dark, blaring synth-punker Perfect View.
• Prodigy and Alchemist’s hardbitten collaborative LP Albert Einstein.
• Fat Tony’s smart, conversational Southern rap solo debut Smart Ass Black Boy.
• Wrekmeister Harmonies’ placid metal experiment You’ve Always Meant So Much To Me.
• Author & Punisher’s overwhelming noise attack Women & Children.
• Surfer Blood’s sophomore fuzz-pop album Pythons.
• Action Bronson & Harry Fraud’s epicurian boom-bap EP Saab Stories.

Comments (24)
  1. Good review. I am a fan of this album. I have somewhat mixed feelings about Boards of Canada overall – I think their music is often beautiful and recognize the talent it takes to make this music, but at times I find it grating and tedious. And I think the same can be said of this album, but I respect it because it feels like they have a realized aesthetic and stick to it throughout the album, and when it hits its mark its really amazing. And more often than not it really does hit the mark. It’s haunting and relaxing at the same time, in a weird way. “Nothing Is Real” is my favorite track so far, it’s hypnotic with the looped synth line and the simple but effective drum pattern.

  2. Whoa, nice find on “Palace Posy” being apocalypse. Not to mention it’s a 10 letter word and track 10 on the album. And “Split Your Infinities” is track 11. Something I didn’t think much of, but my friend thought it was intentional. You nailed it:

    “I’m projecting here, of course, but that’s what Boards Of Canada music makes you do.”

    I’m sure you guys saw me go borderline mental when they were dropping the number clues for this album. I can’t help it, I love this band.

    It’s worth mentioning Deafheaven now, as one of the strongest aspects of that album is their use of interludes to stitch together their album. If not for Boards of Canada, I don’t think I would have ever truly appreciated the importance of the interlude. So I find it interesting that two of the best albums released this week is based strongly on their use of, in my opinion, the underrated interlude.

    I feel appreciating the interludes on “Tomorrow’s Harvest” is the key to appreciating the whole album. I constantly cite “Geogaddi” as my favorite BoC album, but to be honest, it’s because of the big killer tracks (“1969″ / “Alpha and Omega” / “Julie and Candy”). I love the interludes as it gives those songs space, but they were all quite short and never stayed around long enough to make them seem like anything more than glue that connects the big songs. That’s a big difference on “Tomorrow’s Harvest” as the interludes here are MUCH longer and often times end up being more powerful than the more obvious powerhouse tracks (“Cold Earth” / “Reach for the Dead” / “Sick Times”).

    This may seem silly, but lately opening track “Gemini” has been resonating with me the most. It’s damn near three minutes long, a stark contrast to previous BoC album intro tracks that all hovered around the one minute mark. It begins with what must be some intro theme music for some educational film (knowing these guys) and then shifts into something so foreboding it makes me anxious. It’d be foolish to brush this song off as simply another intro track, it seems to be much more than that.

    I’ve talked to Slothdrop about this album and he’s already citing “White Cyclosa” and “Telepath” as his favorites from the album. While I feel “Telepath” is just another by the numbers Boards of Canada interlude (see what i did there?) “White Cyclosa” reveals itself to be much more. The more I hear it, the more I realize why they’d put it so high up on the album. The beat pattern is mesmerizing and even though it seems like a bridge track to get to the longest track on the album, it is over three minutes long. The amount of space Boards has given all these tracks is one of its greatest features and part of why I’m focusing so much on the interludes, as I feel those are the tracks that show the greatest improvement from old Boards to the now new Boards of Canada.

    Of course the inverse could be said about the “anchor tracks” (i’m having trouble with what I should call those… I mentioned examples above). In the past, it’s been those 4-6 minute long Boards bangers that have made us love them so much. “Aquarius”, “Rue the Whirl”, “Nlogax”, “An Eagle in Your Mind”, to name a few, are the level of songs we’ve come to expect from Boards of Canada. Sadly, there really isn’t anything on “Tomorrow’s Harvest” that reaches the heights of those tracks. But from the sound of it, I don’t think they were necessarily trying to make songs like the ones mentioned. “Cold Earth” is the only song that comes close, but even then it is short lived and doesn’t really “pop” like, say, “Alpha and Omega”. I mean, the longest song on the new album is probably one of the most boring.

    So it’s a different beast for sure, but I think you have to approach it differently as well. Personally, I love this album and feel it is a great addition to the Boards of Canada canon. However, I feel a lot of people may just pass it over because it lacks immediacy and truly requires multiple spins to really delve into the interludes.

    Also it requires you to go outside. Rather in a car or for a walk. I don’t think being cooped up in your bedroom listening to this staring at a computer screen is the best way to experience this record. Headphones help too, because OF COURSE Boards of Canada have some cool stereo tricks in many of these songs. Subtlety is crucial for these guys.

    • Listen up you little sunnovvabitch.

      I love your writing and how much thought you put into everything you listen to in a transcendental sense. I am obviously not very good at Internet sarcasm, and despite what my over-emotional non-music commentary in recent months has said, I have not been as good a person to ANYONE on here for what seems like ever, and I think I have been even terrible to myself.

      Not to bring up the past, because 2012 was so last year anyway, but I am truly sorry to everyone I have pissed off professionally and / or personally on here.

      This isn’t my way of hijacking a thread and putting focus on me, but c’mooooooooooooon, guys, give me a break already. If you are going to respond with cynicism or criticism, please just don’t. I just want to start over, even if it means being ordered to kill off _ and start a new account or something.

      Back on track, I’ve never been that much a BoC fan, but I listened to it and appreciated the alien life within. Deafheaven’s Sunbather speaks more to both my 18-year-old and too old to say adult self that sees more parallels between that album and Thursday than say, some underground black metal.

      Not that it should be mentioned because it’s a disappointing effort, but Tom, you forgot Jimmy Eat World’s new LP! Unfortunately, their “adult breakup album” has me wanting to break up with them for good.

      • I think Deafheaven’s release is a greater achievement in music greatness, as “Tomorrow’s Harvest” really just has the whole “Boards of Canada finally put out a new album” essence going for it. Which still takes the cake for me personally, because BOARDS OF CANADA FINALLY PUT OUT A NEW ALBUM. But Deafheaven do deserve many accolades.

        Of course since Deafheaven got Prematurely Eval’d it disqualifies it for AotW (weird rule, but I understand). But I’m glad Michael got that review out weeks before its actual release, because it got me tuned in before the inevitable p4k BNM. I called my record store today to check on vinyl copies, he said some things about it being backordered because of that pitchfork review. I kind of grumbled to myself because it sort of implied I was only calling because of the pitchfork review, as opposed to calling on a Tuesday that an album gets released. I should’ve said, “No I’m calling because of the STEREOGUM review two weeks ago. Get with it!”

        Oh and Michael, if you want people to give you a break, already, you should probably reconsider opening a new comment with the phrase: “Listen up you little sunnovvabitch.” Just a thought.

        • Order directly from Deathwish Inc. They send out orders pretty quickly (although I’m not sure what the situation is right now post P4k review) but I received my CD (Yep!) about two weeks ago, as did everyone who bought the LP version. They’re fairly reasonably with shipping as well.

          Again, “Listen up you little sunnovvabitch” was a failed attempt at comedy in juxtaposition to everything else that followed. Sheesh, tough crowd around ever since D-tits went away, huh?

          • Badass! Got my order into Deathwish with Priority Mail. Hopefully I’ll get it by this weekend. In hindsight I should’ve just ordered from there earlier, but I like to give my local record shop a chance to get in new releases and support them. But second best thing is to support the record label directly, so this works out great in my book. Looks like I’ll be getting the colored LPs for the masses, as the rare limited presses are seemingly long gone.

            Oh I caught you comedic juxtaposition, but I know a lot of others have it out for you and probably would’ve gone for the downvote button immediately after reading. Know your audience ;)

            And D-Titties sort of left because of the exact type of downvote mentality I just mentioned.

        • Also, would be a good online solution as well. They ship for free, and just checked out the price — $20.98. I’ve ordered and gotten albums within days, and that’s with living on the other side of the country.

      • “This isn’t my way of hijacking a thread and putting focus on me”

        This is exactly you hijacking the thread and making it about you – as we’ve seen over and over in the last week (and then again last year). Could we just make the comment section about music and not you, you, you? This is absurd.

        • Not really. It’s called “closure and moving on.” How about we just practice that and never speak of this again? Or do you just want to keep dragging it on with replies that have me replying to them, and then you can justify your statement that me making this all about me, when I’m saying over and over “Let’s just talk about the music.”

    • You think Jacquard Causeway is the most boring song on the album? Are you mad? That shit is a serious jam.

      • Yeah I’m pretty fucking out there, but it’s just sort of off. Everything about it is very disarming and nowhere near as immediate as many of the other tracks. I’m not hating on it by any means! Just saying that in my head, when I stack up the big tracks next to each other, it’s currently in last place.

        Time can change my opinion! I’ll keep focusing in on it and hopefully it’ll become one of my favorites over time. I want to think it’s a jam too! But first impressions can be sunnovvabitches (<– humor)

  3. I love this goddamn album. I can’t listen to something “New Seeds” without thinking

    “Boards of Canada? I heard you were dead?”

    And I mean that as nothing but a comment.

    Also, “Palace Posy” is like someone in the apocalypse trying to write a summer pop jam, but with only the feint memory of what that was and a lot of broken fragments all about them.

  4. What a great album. BoC do what they do so god damn well. Brilliant.

  5. I think there’s a level of mastery in everything BoC does. An effortless skill that is relevant and timeless. I think this album, albeit some dark moods pervading it’s soundscape, is a testament to the bands originality and willingness to try new things. I’m in awe of their restraint in light of artist like Washed Out, Com Truise or Kavinsky, who’ve made careers out of a sound they created years ago. I think it shows great poise and calculation when you really begin to think about the album’s intricacies. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t have just put out another BoC album. They have all the momentum they’ll ever need, but that’s not how they operated on this one or any of their albums, for that fact. They are who they are, purveyors of mood and they did it flawlessly with Tomorrow’s Harvest.

    Checkout my full review here

  6. “All of these artists are coasting at least a little bit, and nobody’s managing (or, arguably, even trying) to outdo their past glories”

    Classic stereogum.

  7. I like the album. Not an immediate classic, but its very Boards of Canada. Palace Posy and New Seeds are breathtaking.

  8. *noob here*

    great review, Tim. very well said, I couldn’t agree more.
    we all have different ‘moments’ when certain music really breaks us open, your camping trip/ firewood story is a prime example. to relate, (quickly, I hope lol) my personal BOC story began when I first heard ‘Music Has The Right…’ shortly before discovering Twoism and High Scores. the stage was set, I had found the essence of my dreams. (that rare and glorious feeling only music can give us)

    I was still pretty young, 19, so needless to say this was all very awe inspiring. a few years passed & Geogaddi was released. it would be the 2nd time in my life of completely succumbing to utter personal bliss and admiration of musical genius. yes, I really like BOC lol

    for me, everything they’ve released since then has been on a level slightly below Geogaddi, but that’s ok because artists evolve and you’re incredibly lucky to experience that “bliss” if even once, for me it was 1,000% (yes, a thousand percent) fulfillment of my expectations from Geogaddi. thankfully there were/ still are several dozens of other brilliant artists doing tremendous things right alongside pioneers like BOC. I religiously listen to stars of the lid, tim hecker, loscil etc. but as I said, Geogaddi was (only) my 2nd time. my 1st was Drukqs by Aphex Twin, and again everything (except Windowlicker) he’s released since Drukqs has been of a lesser intensity for me, but I still deeply admire everything these artists have done, even to include the tumultuous career of Autechre.

    I was really close to a 3rd (bliss) when Amon Tobin released ISAM, but not close enough. his work from Bricolage to Out From Out Where are my favorites but the sheer scale of his advancement since Foley Room is beyond measure. in my opinion Amon Tobin is one of the few (electronic) artists who truly deserves the extensive praise he’s received for the evolution of his work and live performances.

    we can all continue to enjoy what our favorite artists present us with, and dream of more days filled with bliss (or whatever it might be for you) in the future. perhaps BOC had us wait a bit too long for something we haven’t yet learned to appreciate, perhaps not. I personally love Tomorrow’s Harvest and in music, my experience has been that good things really do come to those who wait, because patience really is a virtue. I’d easily wait 7 years again for their next release, and I’d easily wait 10 years for another Geogaddi. ;D

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