Mmmmmmm…floaty ambience with a sinister underbelly. Yes that’s right, Boards of Canada are back with their third long player, following on from 2002s mostly excellent Geogaddi and the genuine post-modern classic that is Music Has the Right to Children, released back in 1999. And then there was Twoism, the stunning demo that started it all back in 1995, when it reached Sean Booth of Autechre (and was re-released in 2002). And don’t forget the stunning ‘A Beautiful Place Out in the Country’, the EP from 2000. Whichever way you listen to it, the Boards have produced an admirable body of consistently good work.
So how does Campfire Headphase take things along, if at all? Well, it’s still very much a Boards of Canada album. In the sense that you’ll recognise it as soon as the first babbling currents of ‘Into The Rainbow Vein’ flicker into earshot. They’ve not started a thrash metal phase or anything. What they have done though, is incorporated acoustic instruments into their spooky ethereal signature. And it is eyebrow-raisingly strange when you first listen to track two, Chromakey Dreamcoat, to hear an acoustic guitar cementing a Boards of Canada track together. It’s all very minimal though, each solidly delivered note almost feeling too late, slightly hesitant, but buzzing solidly when finally committed.
It’s great to hear a different tangent in their music, not least because it helps you enjoy Campfire Headphase without thinking too much about how great Music Has The Right, and Geogaddi were. Although saying that, their music has always been about weaving the unknown into the tapestry, so whether it’s the disembodied voices of children from the first record, or acoustic guitars here, their skill at integration is evidently abundant.
Track 5, Dayvan Cowboy, also shows the duo in a new creative sphere, and is also one of the album highlights. Broad strings envelop the track as it progresses, making it perhaps the warmest music they’ve ever made. But being BoC, it’s only warm because you can still feel the frosty warbling reaching its icy fingers around the edges. It’s as if their music was made in the future on tape, left to disintegrate for an aeon, and then brought back to the present. It’s electronic, but it’s very alive, in the sense that it’s decaying. The damaged soundtracks they found on 16mm educational documentaries made by the National Film Board of Canada, which inspired their name, continue to define their sound, even if it’s only in spirit, not in sample.
Campfire Headphase is also an album that, just like the others in fact, gradually seeps into your mind and takes over. Each listen is a new experience, with so many subtleties bubbling under the surface, and those same bizarre track names, like Ataronchronon, or Satellite Anthem Icarus, adding to the mood. It’s the sound of the memory of an alien abduction, seen from the woods in a damp and frosty winter in 1972, the trees glimmering with brilliant green light. And it’s something you can’t forget, that you can’t stop thinking about, that’s like nothing else you’ve ever felt.
Boards of Canada
The Campfire Headphase (2005)
Record Label: Warp
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