|title||Around The Campfire|
|issue||Volume 04 Number 01 (Oct.14 - Oct. 27)|
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As Boards Of Canada release their new long-player, the plot thickens………..
Words: Paul Clarke
It’s easy to imagine Boards Of Canada as electronic music’s own equivalent of ‘Brigadoon’. Or it would be were not the Gene Kelly musical not insufferably twee and full of elaborate tap-dancing routines – neither of which applies to the spectral sound world so lovingly crafted by Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin.
But in other ways the comparisons between the story of a mysterious Scottish village and Boards Of Canada hold firm. Both, after all, only appear at sporadic intervals and seem curiously out of time, shrouded in the ambience of the Scottish highlands from which they materialise.
Although we have proof of Boards Of Canada’s existence in records like ‘Music Has The Right To Children’ and their latest long-player ‘The Campfire Headphase’ these have become like mythical artefacts in themselves, electronic enigmas which fans dissect with almost scholarly obsession – their aura only heightened by their creators’ self-imposed isolation.
Plus, on the rare occasions when they do break their silence, the mysteries only seem to thicken like the sea mist around the ‘artistic commune’ outside Edinburgh where the pair have spun their eerie instrumental fables for over a decade.
Of course such speculation is encouraged – whether intentionally or not – not just by the Boards’ suspicion of the press but by the many layers of meaning, almost arcane references and microscopic attention to detail woven into their records.
There are numerous internet message boards dedicated to interpreting the ‘subliminal’ messages fans claim to have heard in the dislocated children's voices and old TV samples which have become Boards Of Canada’s sound signature. Such as the allusions to the Branch Davidians on 2000’s ‘In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country’ EP.
‘"The Devil Is In The Details"’ you might say – to use a track title from ‘Geogaddi’, Boards Of Canada’s 2002 album, which had an overall running time of 66 minutes and 6 seconds, as well as what some saw as a horned figure on the cover. Coincidence or conspiracy?
‘The Campfire Headphase’ will undoubtedly spark such intrigue again. There are slight shifts in sound here – such as a greater use of guitars inspired by their love of country musicians like John Denver. But the overall darkly supernatural atmosphere is the same one that has engulfed all their records since their first Warp release ‘Music Has A Right To Children’ in 1998. And the development of their fragile beats and haunting melodies can be traced much further back than even their first official EP release ‘Hi Scores’ on Skam in 1996. It goes back to the days when the pair and various friends would create music for bonfire parties on deserted beaches. Emulating the sound of My Bloody Valentine, synth-pop artists like Devo and even psychedelic folk groups like The Incredible String Band on the old analogue equipment they still love today. Warp re-released their early ‘Twoism’ collection in 2002 but the Boards are still sitting on vast amounts of music which was originally distributed on a few hundred cassette tapes. Mike talks about the possibility of bringing them to light one day, but for now the closest anyone outside their inner sanctum is going to get is listening to ‘The Campfire Headphase.’
And – as with so many Boards Of Canada records – that journey takes us back into the past rather than the sterile future envisaged in so much electronica. Specifically to the sensations of childhood which have always been an overarching influence on their oeuvre. Their name is a tribute to the National Film Board of Canada who produced many of the public information films the pair watched as kids. And their music also has the same feelings of wonder and dread that comes from trying to make sense of the world at an early age. It’s made with childlike intuition rather than adult calculation, with sounds writhing under the surface like vague recollections of formative experiences. Such as Mike’s earliest memory of
Sensations of childhood