campfire headphase

boards of canada - the campfire headphase
i tend to collect things: books, CDs, movies. with a few notable exceptions, i am not overly obsessive in my acquisitions (although i’m sure certain other people might disagree). boards of canada is an exception.

i’ve done my best to acquire everything they’ve ever released (see the wikipedia reference for BoC for the complete listing). while it’s not an exhaustive catalogue, there are a few pieces that are harder to come by than others. a total of 3 albums, 4 EPs, and one unreleased collection is what i’ve got; looks like i’m missing a few LPs and odd cassettes. the campfire headphase is their latest release, following the stunning geogaddi by three years.

the reviews are generally good (see metacritic for a quick synopsis). i can certainly see how this record would underwhelm some BoC fans. when a band generates so much fervor, such rabid adoration, it becomes harder and harder for them to impress over time. in fact, almost impossible. they can’t penetrate the fog of mystique and reverence that has built up around them.

this is partly their own doing. the two brothers who make up BoC have been noticeably reticent when it comes to either touring or doing interviews. they make their music, and that’s it. that is their statement, and they’ve done it in such a way as to wrap a riddle inside an enigma, hidden in a puzzle. as a result, people have analyzed their music beyond reason, flogged it until it’s dead and bleeding beside the road, stripped of any mystery. while some of this analysis is interesting, maybe even insightful, it’s still just mental masturbation, and it sets a standard that no band could meet with their next release. with geogaddi, they set a standard that would be difficult to follow, and then there was silence. three long years of silence, punctuated by two EP releases.

and then, after this long silence, they return with the campfire headphase, doomed to both fail and succeed, regardless of what it contains. in this writer’s humble opinion, it’s a brilliant and rewarding soundscape, an exploration of territory that seems simultaneously new and familiar.

it’s a different album for BoC. i would say drastically different from their work released to date. and yet, their signature sound is still there…it’s still possible, through a few simple sonic structures, a few unique sounds, to identify this record as theirs. and those sounds, in combination with new textures and seemingly infinite layers, make this album worth seeking out.

first and foremost, the samples are gone (or at least faded so far into the background that you don’t notice them consciously). geogaddi and music has the right to children were rife with odd samples, references that fed the imagination of the hungry listening masses. those samples added interesting punctuation marks to the composition, gave it another dimension, something to be puzzled over and interpreted. maybe that’s why they chose to drop them: too much analysis.

the second thing of note is the guitars—they take a prominent place in the sonic landscape of this new album, carving vast valleys and echoing canyons where other sounds can play within and beneath. they add a texture, a substrate that other sounds can attach themselves to. they also heighten the fuzzy warmth that has permeated most BoC releases.

the last thing i would note is the absence of less prominent beats. Hi Scores, MHTRTC, and maybe even Geogaddi had some beats woven through the narrative. this is not the case on the campfire headphase—no beats. (see Correction below)

when i talk about BoC, my tone becomes filled with rapture, and i speak nonsense. words fail me while i foam at the mouth. i can’t describe what their music makes me feel, how it envelopes my thoughts and washes away everything else. when i listen to their music, it takes me to a place that is joyous and melancholy at the same time, a place of warm, fuzzy, beautiful sadness.

maybe, in a way, Boards of Canada is a sonic subsitute for the frailties of language. they express things through meticulously textured sounds that could not be expressed otherwise. theirs is an electronic poetry that defies analysis. you just have to listen. and i do—over and over and over. when i listen, i’m taken back to my childhood, to a time of innocence. i feel that happiness again, all the while carrying in my heart the bittersweet knowledge that it lives only in my memories. for me, this is the tension that BoC somehow express with their shimmering strands of sound.

CORRECTION (10.25.05): i have been taken to the mat for saying that there are no beats on this album. at least two tracks have percussion (dayvan cowboy and oscar see through red eye) and some electronic beats. saying the album has fewer beats was not meant as a criticism. sincere apologies for ruffled feathers and potential confusion. ;-)

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