BOARDS OF CANADA: TOMORROW'S HARVEST (2013)
1) Gemini; 2) Reach For The Dead; 3) White Cyclosa; 4) Jacquard Causeway; 5) Telepath; 6) Cold Earth; 7) Transmisiones Ferox; 8) Sick Times; 9) Collapse; 10) Palace Posy; 11) Split Your Infinities; 12) Uritual; 13) Nothing Is Real; 14) Sundown; 15) New Seeds; 16) Come To Dust; 17) Semena Mertvykh.
The first full-length album from Boards Of Canada in eight years — no wonder the electronic world went almost as crazy for this one as it would do for Aphex Twin's Syro a year later. Overrated or not, Boards Of Canada are «official giants» from the Radiohead era, and just like Radiohead, even if they go on releasing dull crap for the rest of their lives, the hype machine has been set in such major action that the important question of «what it is, exactly, that separates great art from dull crap, particularly in the 21st century?» will seem irrelevant to the majority.
Alas, I remain in the minority that does give a damn, and I have to confess that I find Tomorrow's Harvest to be the duo's least impressive and most overreaching offering to date. Not that I have ever been a major fan, but at least in the past, these guys would look for odd targets to shoot at, and you could spend more time pondering over the meaning of the target than over whether they managed to hit it or not. This time, however, the target is pretty clear — as is, to me, the understanding that they missed it completely. In fact, they missed it so completely that I am even beginning to wonder if these guys really had any genuine talent to begin with.
The album's title, the song titles, the general atmospherics, even the hazy, ominous silhouette of Manhattan on the front cover all speak of dangerous premonitions. From the sounds of childhood and campfires, Boards Of Canada advance to the state where they, too, want to make their «post-apocalyptic» soundscape of coldness, devastation, loneliness, and organic degradation. Which is perfectly alright: almost every electronic artist wishes to make one sooner or later. The only question is — will mine work better than yours?
My answer is that this is one of the least convincing, most instantly forgettable post-apocalyptic albums I have ever had the displeasure of hearing. It builds up the atmosphere based on careful selection of tones, yes, so that the sound is very consistent (and many of the tracks virtually indistinguishable from each other), but that's about it. Just like before, the duo does not care about causing any sharp sensations: everything is smooth and glossy — elevator muzak for the last working elevator in the world left after the last World War. There is not a single track here, not one, for which I could offer any meaningful comment, because I have a distinct feeling I'd heard it all before, in better versions, worse versions, equally dull versions — not a single emotional response above the usual «well, I guess I'd rather hear this in an elevator/supermarket than Katy Perry, but then, on second thought...».
If we can have a specific point of counter-reference, the theme and mood of the album reminded me of certain tracks on the instrumental sides of David Bowie's Low and Heroes — stuff like ʽWarszawaʼ, ʽSubterraneansʼ, ʽSense Of Doubtʼ, compositions that used similar (even if comparatively «antique») techniques to create a feeling of lonely cockroach-style survival among the devastation and dreariness, but actually employed some brilliant minimalistic melodic moves to enhance and really drive home that feeling. And I no longer buy the whole «well, with Boards Of Canada it's all about continuous atmosphere, not about melodic potential» stuff — because Bowie and Eno somehow managed to have both, and now that I know that you can have atmosphere and melody at the same time, why should I settle for anything less?
All I can say is this: if an album like Tomorrow's Harvest, with its grand critical reception and all, is considered by anyone to represent the «state-of-the-art» of electronic music in the early 2010s, then «Electronica» must be as creatively dead as «Rock» or any other such labels, and this particular thumbs down that I am vehemently issuing for this «oh-no-not-another-dust-and-cockroaches-art-piece» of an album turns out to be something far more serious than just a thumbs down. I do hope that is not the case here, though, and what we are really dealing with is a stereotypical case of self-bullshitting due to somebody's legendary status.