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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Boards Of Canada: Twoism


1) Sixtyniner; 2) Oirectine; 3) Iced Cooly; 4) Basefree; 5) Twoism; 6) Seeya Later; 7) Melissa Juice; 8) Smokes Quantity.

The full, unabridged discography for Boards Of Canada begins at least as early as Catalog 3, a tape-only recording produced circa 1987; Twoism, an EP released on tape and vinyl in 1995, is usually counted as the beginning of a «proper» recording career, since it was the only one of these early releases to have been later reissued in CD format. In any case, there's hardly any need to seek out those early rarities unless one is a seriously specialized fan of Michael Sandison and his slightly younger brother Marcus Eoin Sandison, and I am not, so...

Anyway, here is the deal. Melodically, Twoism is Brian Eno: minimalist electronic music with a deeply conservative harmonic structure — deconstructed Bach on transistors. The melodies are pretty, moody, and may create a feeling (perhaps illusionary) of serious depth with very limited means. However, the more precise genre is «chill-out», since on top of these ambient melodies we get dance beats, indicating practical club and party usage. (One of the tracks even bears the title of ʽIced Coolyʼ, as if they were inviting us to pigeonhole them). Subsequently, there are several possible responses: (a) ignore the beats and enjoy the atmospheric melodies; (b) ignore the atmospheric melodies and kick in to the beats; (c) try to kick in to the beats and enjoy the atmospheric melodies at the same time; (d) kill somebody because you find options (a) and (b) mutually exclusive and totally ruining your day.

Perhaps I am not all that qualified to make a comprehensive judgement here, but, honestly, I find myself closer to category (d) than the other three ones. I do not enjoy, nor really «get» the idea to combine music whose essence is so static and contemplative with programmed robotic beats whose essence is thoroughly dynamic and energetic. Contrasts and oppositions can be cool as heck in all forms of art, but this particular one I find irritating. Every once in a while, the beats disappear for a short spell, and I get to enjoy the duo's pretty (though, at this stage at least, not particularly innovative) iceberg-cold textures on their own, but very quickly, they reappear — and for a guy who has relatively little interest in dancing, well...

Sometimes they get a dark trip-hop groove going on, reminiscent of Portishead (ʽSeeya Laterʼ), with a deeply serious bassline giving more substance to the beat, but in those cases, the electro­nic canvas itself becomes a little more agitated, as the synthesizer loops are arranged in mini-crescen­dos and you can imagine the two background parts representing a calm sea with a host of scree­ching seabirds hovering over it. (Then the rhythm section could be your boat, calmly, but sternly crossing the waters). That's okay, but most of the time (ʽSixtyninerʼ, ʽOirectineʼ, etc.) the beats add nothing and detract from everything.

My favorite track on the entire record is the ultra-short ʽMelissa Juiceʼ — not only are the beats there reduced to a small, barely noticeable rhythmic tap, but it also features a quirky little pseudo-recorder melody with an empathetic, «whiny» twist that somehow feels very warm and humane next to all the cold-beauty-stateliness of the general melodic content. This should not be viewed as a reproach to the rest of the album, though — a drop of whiny warmth is exactly the correct amount that is needed to put the final touch on the album, like a tiny spot of yang in a huge swirl of yin. The beats are a reproach, though — and, I mean, it's not even as if they were any sort of special beats. Just your run-of-the-mill drum machine stuff that's been superimposed over the ambience at the last moment. If you are one of those chill-out types, though, you will probably enjoy it; me, I don't get it, and at this point in my life, I probably never will.


  1. Very interested to see you being reviewing BOC, George. And I hope you make it through to their newest (not that it's any good but I'll enjoy the inevitable lambasting...)

    The thing with BoC is that there was nothing quite like them at the time. The crunchy distant beats matched with the melancholic melodies were unique in the late 90s. Of course they've since been copied by many wannabes. But their early material still stands out as being "its own thing" and with all the copy-cat electronica out there, this should be treasured. Sometimes their twisted beats did seem a touch incongruous though.

  2. Edging ever closer to the Brian Eno reviews...

    1. Can't wait. GS's original site introduced me to Eno and for that I eternally grateful.

  3. Tomorrow's Harvest is good, it's just not AS good as Music... and Geogaddi is all.

  4. I've been interested about Boards of Canada for a couple of years now. Listened to a few songs, liked some of them but could never remember what those songs are!! But looking forward to read more BoC reviews. Perhaps I'll successfully get into them this time.

  5. Hi George. I get your criticisms about the beats. While they're one of my favorite bands, I think BOC are at their weakest when they rely on layering straight hip-hop beats over their gorgeous and moody synth melodies- this is why I think Music Has A Right to Children is probably my least favorite album (but I still love it). However, I think it's a mistake to reduce the band's catalog as a whole to following this formula. In my opinion with Geogaddi and everything that follows it sounds like they evolve to relying less on samples and standard drum machine beats but rather creating original strange and interesting rhythms from analog machines that often enhance the weirdness of the songs.

    I really enjoy Twoism but I find it's missing some of the subtle humor found on their other albums. I disagree about the beats on 'Sixtyniner' detracting from the song... the way the tempo kind of drags reflects the reflective and depressing nature of the song. And when they cut out for that vocal sample- I don't know if it's someone describing a psychedelic, sexual or religious experience, but it makes the song seem probably more profound than it should. A favorite is 'Iced Cooly' because of way the synth melody and bass gradually changes keys. Simple but gives such a cool effect.

  6. BoC is my favorite group from the world of electronica... but it took a hell of a long time for me to properly get into them. Just wait until you get around to Geogaddi.