Oct 24, 2005

boards of canada - campfire headphase

Let's be clear on this since there has been a fair amount of 'ho-humness' press about this album - it is very very good. I think much of the middling to negative press stems primarily from the fact that BoC like to create songs that make their musical competition seem like 3 year olds plonking out notes on a Casio. They are the Lance Armstrong of electronica. When Lance Armstrong has an uneventful leg on the Tour de France people get upset or bored. That's what's going on here.

Unlike Radiohead I don't have a lot of trepidation when buying BoC material. That's because they have already put out their best work and I know damn well nothing will ever come close to touching it. I've mentioned it before. It's called In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country. With that masterpiece out of the way I know I can relax and just enjoy everything else that comes along.

Some of the other comments have centered around how their sound has changed with this album. There is of course the well publicized use of guitars and pianos and most notably analog drums on Dayvan Cowboy - organic instruments they traditionally have not used. But this isn't such a large departure. Their music, while made with electronics, was never electronic. If they sit on an electronica spectrum they are the yin to Kraftwerk's harsh yang. Their accessibility was always rooted in the organic feel to their music.
These instruments are put to their most effective use as an underlying rhythm/melody carrier as it is used on Constants are Changing - a strummy guitar with an oscillating phase change.
And there are some clever use of guitar loops. In particular the sound created when you slide a finger down a ribbed guitar string has been contorted to sound like a yelping puppy dog on Peacock Tail.

My friend makes a few other points here. First he says 'no beats'. No beats? I'm definitely hearing beats. You're right there aren't as many and some are hidden by using non-percussive sounds or instruments. But Chromakey Dreamcoat definitely has beats. But BoC for me was never a beat band. It's ironic that I like them because my number one complaint of most bands is that their rhythm section is dull. And BoCs rhythm section, if you can call it that, is dull dull dull. Doesn't seem to bother me for some reason. Never has.

Second he says no samples which has been a mainstay of BoC. I assume he means no background voice samples. A lot of the piano & guitar is sampled and looped. He might be right on this one but I think I hear voice samples. They are very hidden. Get a pair of good headphones and listen. I swear I'm hearing some weird samples in the background. But it's hard to hear because the music is a little more busy when they occur. The maddeningly quiet samples of people talking are just out of reach of my ears. Try Chromakey again towards the end.

But there is still a lot of traditional BoC still here. In fact I wouldn't find it hard identify that this album was BoC pretty quickly if someone played it for me. And there's also that traditional sound of theirs. I don't know really what to call it. It's kind of a spindly spiraling spooky sound that marks that their hands touched this work. It's the one aspect of their sound that no one else has been able to recreate. Try Satellite Anthem Icarus for an example.

And if you just want to listen you can actually stream the entire album here (registration req.)

And while I'm here. What is it about Scottish bands that makes them so good and so reclusive. BoC take the prize but there are a few: The Cocteau Twins, Belle & Sebastian, Blue Nile, Arab Strap, Aztec Camera, Orange Juice, Mogwai, Snow Patrol, Texas, Franz Ferdinand. Oh yea. And the most enigmatic of them all - Bay City Rollers. Must be the scotch.

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