Say what you will about the actual music contained in it, “Tomorrow’s Harvest” is the perfect title for a Boards of Canada record, any Boards of Canada record, really. And that “tomorrow” is not a pretty one, reflected in a music that is somberly electronic, accompanied by visuals — scant as they are — suggesting you’ve found a fourth generation copy of a lost, lyric-less music from an uncle long dead: a polaroid of a TV screen showing a video of a film.
Nearly but not quite anonymous, Boards of Canada have made a career of hipster stand-offishness, which would make them precious, not to mention enormous risk takers in a genre not exactly known for its lack of anonymity, if the music that brothers Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin create wasn’t so distinctive, so darkly humorous, so consistent. Their currency among their champions has lasted decades now, across four proper albums and a clutch of EPs, weakening the knees and strengthening the fingers of cube farm keyboard jockeys the world over.
The new record picks up where The Campfire Headphase (2006) left off. That album, a more melodic, less creepy, and mellower version of their landmark Music Has a Right to Children (1998) and its follow-up Geogaddi (2002), saw their star dip a bit among the worshippers, though I thought it quite respectable, their version of Manual’s Ascend or Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works. Tomorrow Harvest’s tone is set, like other BOC albums, with the cover photo, a faded urban skyline overlaid on a scrubby western sea of test-site hardpan, post-apocalytpic in its desert-ed-ness. The ghosting of the transparencies has a lot to say not only about the message in the title, but also about BOC’s music, where disappearing is as key to the song as the introduction of the next melody, beat, or bass line. The shifts evoke 70s-era Cluster or 90s-era Tortoise, where tunes can seem to be made out of nothing yet go on for 6 or 7 minutes, and be utterly transfixing, mesmerizing.
This album was long awaited by the band’s fans, a seven-year gap unusual even for BOC. The stir of mysterious hype that accompanied the album’s release was even more unusual, an odd mix of coded messages issued by the band and its label, that I found curious coming from a group that prizes its own silence. I also think the plan was fairly quickly abandoned after the only people who got it were the people who perpetrated it. Perhaps Warp Records demanded BOC do something, anything, to tart up a new release, but I guarantee the band’s fan’s don’t care about such tactics: given that the messages were relayed via blinkered hipster hubs like All Songs Considered, Amoeba Records, and Other Music, they were only preaching to the choir anyway. Such hype also, inevitably, raises expectations.
To say that Boards of Canada is doing something new on Tomorrow’s Harvest would be misleading. Their style is what they are, and it hasn’t changed substantially across records (for this let us be thankful). Their (often beautiful) melodies have their own dark taxonomy, their approach — warbling, occasionally souring, vintage synths, beats that fade in and out, treated human and machine voices murmuring incantations that in their repetition can take on cracked, dark angles — should be a patent. BOC’s debut signalled a music different from anything else out there, and to this day the band can really only be compared to themselves. On Tomorrow’s Harvest, Boards of Canada continues to create inspired, original music that has matured as it’s maintained an imprint of disciplined creative achievement.