That '70s Show

Real Scot brotherhood eschews the occult for plain view

Hard to parse amid the miasma of Highland pea soup and haggis smoke, the Boards of Canada ply a Muzak-y nostalgia that is at once lost in a diaphanous decade and locked into a rigid loop. Mike Sandison and Marcus Eion love the sound of '70s TV, and they wrap up a slow, loping stew of resinated drum crunch and primitive Atari boop in a fleece of reverb to warm their tweeting Pied Piper pan pipes. All of which reimagines a childhood both fazed and out of phase, where progress is made only at the sound of the beep. Casual initiates were hazed and immersed in the blurry aqua-green world of 1998's watermark Music Has the Right to Children, and the Boards drew the electronic field away from the programmed imbroglios of labelmates like Aphex Twin and Autechre, immersing it in pastoral hues instead.

Lest you think their dreamy '70s were devoid of Weathermen, Watergate, Jonestown, or snow blindness, the Boards' follow-up Geogaddi was more like a paranoid fever dream. Then, ensconced in their bunkers/studios and still eerily obsessed with the Branch Davidians, the Boards withdrew, became occult themselves, seldom heard from for three-plus years, save for scant remixes: Beck's "Broken Drum" was macerated for greater melancholia, while the noxious cLOUDDEAD voices made you pray for more Leslie Nielsen samples.

There are no voices (subliminal or speak 'n' spell) to be heard on The Campfire Headphase, the long-incubated third album. BOC's dread and darkness have burned off to reveal just a mild afternoon. And that theirs is a real brotherhood. Rather than stockpiling arms, the Boards brothers were only bearing guitars. Their ever present lo-fi lovability is now tethered to simple, jangly indie-rock lines. A clean Tortoise tone rings over the outdated downtempo preset on "Hey Saturday Sun," while "Satellite Anthem Icarus" is as placid as its palette of nylon strings and incoming tides.

Boards of Canada
photo: Peter Iain Campbell
Boards of Canada

"Dayvan Cowboy" could've been the most interesting use of a reverberating guitar had not the Duane Eddy–tronica of Isolee's Wearemonster(a/k/a the best techno album of 2005) already beaten them to the punch. Further in, "Slow This Bird Down" chops and screws the Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom sound bed, but the album erodes from there, signaling not so much a sonic refinement as a childish regression.

 
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