"Splendid Isolation" by Neil Davenport
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Tune in to the other-worldly sound of Boards Of Canada
Musicians often boast they're removed from the hub and froth of media-piloted trends. Yet few do so with as much conviction as Scots duo Boards Of Canada. Located in the rural Scottich Highlands, brothers Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin (they are both called Sandison but Marcus uses his middle name) firmly believe that separation from civilisation is mandatory. 'We go into a "studio lockdown",' explains Marcus, 'where the only umbilical cord we have to current culture is satellite TV or the Internet. It's something that allows us to switch off for long periods and create an alternative universe where our music exists.' The ends fully justify the means. Sicne breaking through in 1998 with their landmark full-length debut, Music Has The Right To Children, Boards Of Canada have taken analogue electronica on a solar expedition. Sparse yet eerily expansive keyboard signatures sound cut loose from the Earth's gravity, yet the effect is altogether more human and emotional than that description might suggest. After 2002's dense and symmetrical samples on Geogaddi, new album The Campfire Headphase is a deliberate return to the weird evocations of grainy Super-8s and Sesame Street heard on Music Has The Right To Children. Even the sleeve looks similar. 'Yeah, exactly,' says Mike, 'we've come full circle. With Geogaddi it went pretty surreal and dark, and this record is like coming back into the fresh air again.' Yet The Campfire Headphase isn't the sound of the duo standing thematically or musically still. 'In itself, the new album has a theme,' continues Mike. 'It's based on one man's head trip, a kind of vintage American road trip that's basically just a hallucination. We were going for that kind of dry, laid-back, wide-open sound.' The American references are appropriate. As children, the brothres obsessed over American TV progreammes such as The Six Million Dollar Man and dystopian sci-fi films The Andromeda Strain, Logan's Run and Silent Running. Such wonky soundtracks helped map out the Boards' wobbly, fluttering sound. Despite precocious geekiness, their formative years still included a conventional stint as a'proper' guitar band. And if Mike and Marcus are going 'full circle', it's fitting that they've dusted down their guitars for this album. 'It wasn't a big deal for us because we have a longer history as a guitar-based band,' says Mike. 'With each album it's a different facet of our sound.' Yet the guitars are only incidental - it's still the Boards' inmistakable brand of analogue psychedelia and it still sounds stretched and warped, magical and otherworldly. How do they do it? 'We just don't like clean sounds,' says Mike. 'We'Ve always loved making electronic music that doesn't sound typically perfect. I've always felt that recorded music seems to have something special when it's worn and damaged.' In 2005, no one comes close to replicating or bettering the Boards' imperfect purity. Electronica as a genre may have ceased to be exciting or beguiling years ago, but can The Campfire Headphase kick-start a fresh reappraisal? Don't expect to get any answers from Mike and Marcus. 'We avoid reading all reviews,' says Mike firmly, 'so we don't know what the world thinks of our music anyway.' Somehow, you kind of believe him.
Brothers' gonna work it out... One the new album: Mike: 'We'd been writing throughout 2003 but the serious work on the new record began mid-2004. We'd both been travelling quite a bit and I'd been sketching tracks out in New Zealand where I was living for a while. We wanted to make a really catchy, spaced-out record.' On electronica: Mike: We're not huge fans of electronica specifically. Technology has made it so easy for anyone to get into producing music, especially electronic music, that the whole electronica scene has been diluted. It's allowing a lot of mediocre music to be released.'
On maths: Marcus: 'It's a whole world of amazing patterns and coincidences. The more you apply maths to the world as we perceive it, the more fascinating it gets. And it has connections with the way the world is revealed when you strip half of your head away with psychedelics.'
On being 'telepathic': Mike: 'We're pretty much both on the same wavelength al the time. We usually don't even have to use complete sentences to convey ideas to each other. We have a kind of shorthand musical language that would sound like total gobbledygook to anyone else.'