Review: Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest

The Evolution is Over & The Magic has Faded
  • visit the album's official release page
  • 2.9/10
  • 2.9/10
    1. Gemini
    2. Reach for the Dead
    3. White Cyclosa
    4. Jacquard Causeway
    5. Telepath
    6. Cold Earth
    7. Transmisiones Ferox
    8. Sick Times
    9. Collapse
    10. Palace Posy
    11. Split Your Infinities
    12. Uritual
    13. Nothing is Real
    14. Sundown
    15. New Seeds
    16. Come to Dust
    17. Semena Mertvykh


Straight to the point. Without those poetic introductions some learned at their departments of journalism.

BoC had 7 years to complete their new LP “Tomorrow’s Harvest”.
The timbres are still the same, but they are not state of the art any more. Let’s take a step back.
BoC are known for their organic, evolving synthesizerish timbres and harmonies. The “Organic-feel” comes with

  • different instantiations of noise (in nature sound comes most of the time with noise. e.g. trees hissing while birds singing)
  • application of highcut-filter (+modulation) on the synth, which renders the unnaturally and static loud overtones of the saw-wave down
  • modulation of volume of parts of the spectrum, e.g. some frequency-parts in the higher register of harmony fade in & out
  • fine, slow modulation of the “Detune” or “Pitch” parameter” of the respective synth or sample
  • even more modulation of other parameters, which I didn’t bother to identify yet

In general: BoC uses slow, small-range modulations of many parameters at the same time. That’s a clever psychological trick, because the listener can’t get a firm grip on harmony and timbre. This feels slightly disorienting and becomes manifest as a positive affect if you like the overall harmony (chord-progression, melody line) and rhythmic-structure (positive interpretation of disorientation). The anticipation (structure in your mind reflecting the track & your whole musical experience) gets disappointed, so it’s harder to get bored. Also it’s normal for the outside-world (nature, city) that timbres are very complex, the attribute “organic” can kick in.

Listen to these examples & pay attention to the described organic-ness attributes:

excerpt from 2006 “Heard From Telegraph Lines” from Trans-Canada Highway (one of my fav. BoC’s ever)

excerpt from 2013 “Nothing Is Real” from Tomorrow’s Harvest (my fav. on the new LP, but there is a definite lack of “deep mystery” as in 2006’s)

For an example of state of the art, more organic timbre-harmony-interaction listen here:

2013 “peaceful melting on shrooms” from Moist Autobiography by deef


Rhythm & Structure

As always BoC’s rhythms & macro-structures are nothing special. Some straight rhythms, some swing here and there.
I couldn’t find any shifting polyrhythms or chaotic-but-still-glued-together avantgarde grooves like here, over at Oval’s:

excerpt from 2012 “Whypunkt” from OvalDNA by Oval

The macro-structure comprises slow build-ups, climaxes & slow come-downs. It’s ok, but just not enough for experienced listeners. Some surprises would be much appreciated.
The timbre of the rhythm-instruments deserves a mention. It’s also old-BoC, but as in past LPs you hear that they worked a lot on every drum-sound. You don’t get the feel of stock-sample-library-drumkits even though the timbres (lots of “acoustic”) are nothing special in itself (see Autechre for contrary).

In regard to rhythm & structure BoC missed to employ those “disorienting-organic” tricks they use in harmony & respective timbres. Or put it another way they weren’t as consequent in doing it. Also there is a loss of organic-ness mainly in drum timbres, because of frequent use of digitally harsh bit-reduction-effects in their new LP (I am not the first one discovering it).

Here is an example of not as rich as back in 2006 modulated synth-timbre (01:15…) with a harmony that doesn’t bother me at all feat. nasty bit-reduction on drums (best heard 04:15…):

excerpt from 2013 “Reach For The Dead” from Tomorrow’s Harvest by Boards Of Canada (01:15…)

excerpt from 2013 “Reach For The Dead” from Tomorrow’s Harvest by Boards Of Canada (04:02…)


Why such low rating? What’s wrong?

For perfect music everything has to be perfect. Even more: things have to be perfect of which the listener didn’t know they could be so perfect (or things).
I like also music far from perfect, but something has to be there. If the structure is boring there has to be at least harmonies & melody lines you fall in love with no matter how experienced you are in this type of music. If you don’t like the harmonies, rhythms/grooves (too boring or too chaotic/new), timbres & their interaction ((macro)structure) there is nothing left at all in instrumental music.

Example of a dozen of beautiful micro-melodies you can fall in love with; painstakingly arranged to a complex bubbly-organic collage (drums are boring though, even back in 2005):

excerpt from 2005 “Satellite Anthem Icarus” from The Campfire Headphase by Boards Of Canada (00:55…)

It’s not nostalgia on my side. It is the simple question: Why didn’t they build upon that so that I could get addicted again? In other reviews it sounds like this kind of judgment is so obvious, that it would be uncool to state it. As Mark Richardson writes on Pitchfork:

The Scottish brothers Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin didn’t invent a new sound, but they did take various strands of music floating around and pull them into one place and essentially perfect them.

No, they didn’t and I hope I could show you exactly why even without poetic metaphors that are too impotent to bind directly on musical Gestalts.

To sum up – 2.9/10 – no troll!
I can find more touching harmonies & complex organic-ness in the old BoC releases, but I listened to them so often that they lost their “avantgarde-magic”. More precise: the harmonies are not as much prone to habituation as timbres & structures of musical Gestalts. The grooves didn’t evolve at all.

The evolution is over & music needs evolution. If you’d like to argue ask yourself how music you love at the moment came about. At the time it was released it was fresh. It had something new. Again: harmony-wise there seem to be a different pace of evolution. The same harmonies as in senior BoC releases would be OK for me, if the rest would evolve. Yes, I expect that from somebody who had 7 years to work. I expect that also from me. The magic of BoC relied mostly on the organic freshness of the harmony-timbre-complex, but as I got accustomed the magic has faded.
The need of evolution was not fulfilled, even worse: BoC regressed & I have no reason to listen to this new record.

This was a pretty quick review, but see it as an introduction.
In the next reviews I’ll have to go into details of “musical Gestalts”, the taste of harmony & why complexity is not only a stylistic device.