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Boards of Canada - Geogaddi

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Artist: Boards of Canada

Album: Geogaddi

Label: Warp

Review date: Mar. 31, 2002

It's quite a hole that these Boards of Canada have dug themselves. Maybe they didn't know what they were getting into when they made Music Has the Right to Children, but by late 1998 they were in it up to their neck, and by 2002 "it" had been redefined and pounded into the ground again and again. Why they waited so long to release Children's follow-up is perplexing. During this four-year quasi-slumber, hundreds of imitators and influencees crept about, each doing their part to contribute to "that Boards of Canada sound." Some were even good. Cex, one of the BOC sound's finest protegees, has released three full albums since Children was first released. That's a lot. However despite the fact that, in their absence and because of them, the electronic community evolved dramatically, anticipation for Geogaddi has not dissipated a lick.

High anticipation generally means little more than increased disappointment, and knowing this, Boards of Canada sure had their work cut out for them. They could have attempted to re-revolutionize the genre by creating a brand new sound. They didn't do this. They could have also simply remade Children with new melodies and beats. They didn't do this either. In fact, Geogaddi falls somewhere in between these two possibilities, and we were fools for ever having doubted them because this is a god damned great album.

While Geogaddi is fairly low-key, all of the qualities with which Boards of Canada are identified are still present. Their melodies ooze and whoosh, in an out, rarely repeating and rarely staying true to key or convention. Their timing is startling and impeccable, laying down the biggest of beats in the smallest of places. Syncopation and clipping are not as prominent on Geogaddi as they were on Children but their subtle and frequent presence is crucial to each song's character and presence. Their production is painstakingly attentive to each detail, and it pays off. Every kick of bass drum is perfectly symmetric, crisp, and full.

Sampled voices are also less prominent, and at times less effective. While Boards of Canada certainly can’t be blamed for Scott Herron’s near perfected use of chopped up vocals, they have perhaps been out-imitated in this case. While Herron’s Prefuse 73 cut-‘n-pasted vocal samples into beautifully perplexing tools of rhythm and melody, Boards of Canada are unable to match Herron’s complexity and precisions. However, while their actual manipulation of the voice tones may no longer be absolutely superior, Boards of Canada’s melodic sense remains generally superb. Processed vocals on “Music Is Math” sing angelically on top of mechanical thundering beats, tempered occasionally by ghostly cries and digital gasps. On “Gyroscope,” a young and forlorn voice eerily counts up and down and all around, bringing fluidity to the jarring beat and meandering melody. Youthful female vocals backed by sampled strings and seas of ambient melody on “Dawn Chorus” are reminiscent of Sigur Ros sap, but when tempered with chaotic whispers and fluttering twinkle-tones, Boards of Canada escape unscathed. Human samples (possibly by Leslie Neilson?) on “Dandelion,” however, sound awkward both in content and in presentation, abruptly cutting in and out with pointless discussion of volcanic lava flow. In this case the vocals are mixed strongly to the front and distract the melody.

Geogaddi’s melodies are somewhat understated compared to those of Children, but equally stunning. Here, the contrasted combination of the warmest of tones with the coldest of melodies is nearly exaggerated. Boards of Canada place melody on top of melody, rarely favoring one over another. On “Julie and Candy,” whistling tunes uncrumple like newspaper to reveal layer upon layer of spooky medieval melodies. This song’s buildup is the most linear of the entire album as well as the most exciting. By “Julie and Candy”’s end, fleeting organs snake about, clipped cymbals crash (forward and backward) with delicate restraint, telephones ring, ethereal swooshing pans from right to left, and suddenly it is all calmly brought to a halt. Full build occurs early and abruptly on “Alpha and Omega,” as Boards of Canada brilliantly clarify an opaque melody with twiddly keyboards, warp-speed tablas, and electromash. They then work backwards, gradually collapsing and deconstructing until only hiss remains.

While Music Has the Right to Children was unmistakably brilliant, Geogaddi is decidedly more difficult. While it is certainly poppy and smooth, there are no “Roygbiv”s or even any “Aquarius”s to be found. To fully appreciate the scale of Geogaddi achievement requires far more concentration and repetition. Like their labelmates in Autechre, whose brilliantly abrasive Confield hid lush melody below layers of intimidation, Boards of Canada don’t always make it easy. “Gyroscope,” the most biting song on Geogaddi, sounds like a reversed negative. Violent snares pitter-pat without the aid of bass (drums or tones) while various melodies appear and disappear. Like much of Geogaddi it is frustrating, and confusing, and exciting, and brilliant.

By Sam Hunt

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