BOARDS OF CANADA: TWOISM (1995)
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.