The story of how I discovered Boards of Canada isn’t very romantic or memorable. I merely heard them on a Matador Records compilation between the Cat Power and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and was thoroughly impressed. However, what struck me about the band is how familiar they sounded. They had a quality about them that immediately struck me as warm, childlike and nostalgic. They were an electronic act that you could warm up to; they weren’t restricted solely to the dancefloor. No, they were something altogether inviting and personal. Inspired by educational film soundtracks, you could almost see photosynthesis taking place while you listened. And it may have been geeky and unusual, but for me, it was strangely comforting and delightful.
Seven years later, I still have a fondness for Boards of Canada, but more time seems to pass between listens. Every time I listen to Geogaddi, I’m hypnotized by the gauzy sounds emanating from my speakers, but it’s rarely the first album I think to put on at home. So, it would seem, the best way to get myself hyped on Boards of Canada again would be to immerse myself in their latest, The Campfire Headphase.
The Campfire Headphase contains essentially the same qualities that made Music Has the Right to Children and Geogaddi so great. The songs themselves have an immediacy and warmth not often found in IDM, the beats are never too overbearing, and the between-song interludes are frequently as fascinating and mysterious as the tracks themselves. But for some reason, Headphase seems to take just that much longer to get one’s head around. Maybe it’s because Children was so accessible. Maybe it’s because Geogaddi was so unique. Either way, Headphase opens up in slo-mo, like the visualized plant bud emerging from the soil.
By no means a “difficult” record, The Campfire Headphase is something of a sideways progression for the duo. While there are no glaring differences between this and the previous two full-lengths, there is a more pronounced guitar presence this time around, which actually makes for a slightly more adventurous listen. Part of what makes The Campfire Headphase seem a little strange at first is that guitar; it’s such a central part of the first proper “song” on the record (“Chromakey Dreamcoat”), that it almost seems like a different group. It doesn’t take long to get used to, however, and actually adds a new dimension to the Scottish duo’s sound.
On two of the album’s best tracks, “Satellite Anthem Icarus” and “Dayvan Cowboy,” the music draws similarities to Beck’s Sea Change, or if you’d like to go straight to that album’s influences, Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson. “Dayvan” in particular is engaging because of its suspenseful buildup and heightened drum progression. Much of the album, however, still retains the analog dreamscape of Music Has the Right to Children, at times floating in an ambient abyss, others grooving on an Air-like trip-hop haze.
Boards of Canada are clearly still among the best electronic producers out there right now, and The Campfire Headphase is yet another hour of blissful, dreamy IDM. After a few listens, I became quite fond of this record, and more importantly, it got me excited about Boards of Canada again. Maybe I’ll break out Geogaddi again, after I give this one another spin.