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Boards of Canada

Children Have the Right to Grow

By Amandeep Loomba


Boards of Canada


Warp Records

Boards of Canada’s first album, Music Has the Right to Children, came out in 1998. It was greeted with overwhelmingly positive reviews, lauded as both an ideal album for casual electronic listening and a serious artistic statement. With the heavily anticipated Geogaddi, Boards of Canada affirms that it is one of the few electronic acts out there that can maintain considerably rigid artistic ethics and still attain an earnest level of listenability.

Realizing this will help one understand why Geogaddi does not stray too far from Music Has the Right to Children’s sound and flavor. Boards of Canada’s second album is not a nostalgic grasp at its first album, but rather a continuingly nostalgic look at our past, our childhood, with double the emphasis on the bittersweet this time around.

That is not to say that the group’s first release was a cloying effort by any means. But Music Has the Right to Children was certainly a more optimistic release than Geogaddi. It had its touches of playfulness and hilarity, and of course it had melody. In fact, the melodies of that first album had such presence that one couldn’t help but be drawn into the sheer beauty of the tunes. This time around, the boys from Scotland are using the same equipment (what sounds like an array of mis-wired Commodores and Amigas) but to very different effect.

Boards of Canada’s sound can be described as follows. Imagine taking hip-hop beats completely out of context (if any context remains) and marrying them to Eno-like textures and ambience. Pepper the mixture with ever-so-subtle touches of spinning, and submerge briefly in the kaleidoscopic wonder of youth. Add desired amounts of waviness and warble (to taste or psycho-tropic conditions). Place the entire concoction in the context of the absurdity of the elementary school era educational videos that were mirrors for our own lives (Leslie Nielsen’s narrative voice will be appropriate).

On former releases the final step for the group was to wrap the dish in a crispy, optimistically melodic exterior. On Geogaddi, the melody is the stuffing. Buried somewhere beneath the disorientingly multi-layered production, the distortion, and the child-like vocals, you will find a sweet sentimentality and a lost innocence--in a word, nostalgia.

Essentially, the duo manages to evoke the awkwardness of adolescence on its sophomore album. Leftover from its previous album are the touches of childhood wonder, but these are merged with darker shades of pessimism, a more mature and upfront anguish. This darker tone might make Geogaddi less enjoyable than its predecessor. It’s hard not to get caught up in the album, with its vocoders, subtly cut-up samples and the drive you feel to bob your head along with the music. What’s hard is dealing with the feeling you get when you realize that something much bigger than head-bobbing is going on here.

But it’s not wrong to get lost in the music. You’re welcome to let it inspire within you the profound sadness of another age, when Leslie Nielsen-narrated educational videos (“Dandelion”) met the unique relationship between “Julie and Candy” (the album’s standout bittersweet track). It’s a time when you first learned that “Music is Math,” that you ought to “Beware the Friendly Stranger,” and that it’s quite probably true that “A is to B as B is to C.”

Boards of Canada nostalgia is not marketed upfront and in your face. It is not a reclamation of the past, but a bittersweet remembrance of the past. It is pain with pleasure, and enlightenment with mystery. It is a revisiting of childhood, but without the kitsch that so often accompanies the artifice of memory that is often sold to us.

To describe Geogaddi as dreamy is a severe understatement. The album does more than mimic dreamlike states. A more apt analogy would be waking up in your bed, staring at the ceiling with the sun streaming in your face, remembering only fragments of something that may have happened in your dreams last night, and knowing that it was something that could at once make you feel overwhelmingly happy and sad, but also knowing that you’ll never be able to put your finger on exactly what it was.