Archive for August 17th, 2007

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Boards of Canada – Geogaddi

August 17, 2007

With their 2002 sophomore album, Geogaddi, Boards of Canada would have had to have pulled something completely special out of their box of tricks to cement their place in the musical world. Music Has The Right To Children was already hailed by some as a masterpiece, but who was to say it wasn’t a one time draw? For all anyone knew, Boards of Canada were the exact right band to fall back into obscurity and stay a cult hit for the rest of forever. And yet somehow, they managed to craft an equally popular album while still sticking to the style that made Music Has The Right To Children such an unexpected powerhouse. On many second outings, it is expected that a band would make their best album yet, change a genre, or bring something completely unique to the table. The fact that Boards of Canada are not concerned with record sales or trends in popular music was overshadowed by the fact that they simply want to challenge their working space, and bring their music to a new level. In this way, for many people, they ended up following the trend anyway and made what might be their best album.

But in reality, is it their best album? No. Music Has The Right To Children was simply better, better on the grounds that it did something completely different, better in it’s personal style, and simply more enjoyable to listen to. But that is another notion that BoC simply swept under the table with Geogaddi. Enjoyable music does not have to be initially enjoyed, and good music is sometimes inspiring without being enjoyable at all. That isn’t to say that Boards of Canada fans won’t find many of the things here that made Music Has The Right To Children such an enjoyable album. Because this follows many of the same trends and styles that made that album special. As usual, a good half of the songs here are very short interludes that represent very specific emotions or images, about a fourth are sprawling complex webbings of beats and rhythmic synthesizers played in striking conjunction, and another fourth are medium lengthed songs that combine elements of the two. Each type of song is important. Although many people would write off the short interludes, they are half the fun, and just as engaging as the long ones.

Perhaps it is of benefit of the listener to go through the first few songs step by step. I only do it this way because every step of the journey is as individual as the last, and there isn’t much of anything that will let anyone know what they are in store for before they listen to Geogaddi.

The first song, Ready Lets Go, is just shy of a minute in length and sounds like a small drone of an air conditioning system played underneath very subtle chords most likely produced by a cheap casio keyboard and interesting little swirls of noise. One thing that always strikes me about songs by Boards of Canada are the titles. Right off the bat, Boards of Canada assures you that you are on your way as long as you make it past that first track. This is only step one. Step two, Music Is Math, is one of those longer songs I mentioned. Various minor tonalities with simple sound are played over a rather harsh set of beats. These beats are warped every so slightly in their sound and rhythm throughout the song. This is one of Boards of Canada’s biggest tricks. By making these subtle changes in both beat and other instrumentation, songs keep fresh without loosing focus, and thus never overstay their welcome. The next song is Beware The Friendly Stranger, what sounds like a simple flute melody played through a crackly walkie talkie over the sound of children playing. What man in a trenchcoat could this song possibly describe?

Even after hearing those first three songs, starting over again reveals a completely new angle in Ready Lets Go, making it sound deceptively disturbing even after only having heard a tiny portion of the massive album. How do all these pieces fit together? Beyond the fact that they all sound vaguely like something you would hear in a nightmare, this is something I am yet to figure out. I can’t place my finger on it, but this music just works. It has to, for how well it gets under ones skin and pushes outward relentlessly. And I’ll be honest here, this album is a very difficult listen. It’s creepy. No, scary. The more you listen, the more you wish you hadn’t heard, and yet the deeper you want to dig. One song is named The Devil is in The Details, which describes Geogaddi fairly accurately. In fact, Boards of Canada have been accused of subliminal messaging, and at that, satanic messages. Are Boards of Canada satanists? No, no they are not, and they mean no harm. The listener harms themselves by doing all the vicarious listening.

I’ll bet this album sounds pretty pretentious right about now, doesn’t it? Because it sure sounded pretentious to me after the first listen. An album that puts a song of complete silence at the end has to be pretentious to some extent. Then I looked at my stereo, which had stopped upon completing the CD, at exactly sixty six minutes and six seconds. And then people start telling me that Geogaddi is smattered with mathematical equations in the music, and that there are biblical refferences here and there. And yet Boards of Canada assure us that there is no devil worship here, and that they are simply trying to make inspiring music. They tell us that the word “Geogaddi” has a specific meaning to them, but they want it to mean whatever the listener feels it should mean.

…What the fuck? Geogaddi is a puzzle. And Geogaddi is a puzzle with answers. Was that last track, one minute and forty six seconds of silence, an optimistic ending or a dreaded one? There is a full picture to be completed, but the jigsaws are cut by the listener. Maybe it is just a big mess of sounds and coincidences with no real meaning spawned by a bunch of stoners with too much time on their hands, or maybe it merrits attention. Who knows.

And to be fair, this is not some musical revolution. This is probalby my least favorite Boards of Canada album, out of three. I’ll bet it was this new, scary world of sound that inspired the band to make their most compulsively listenable and accessible album, The Campfire Headphase. This is not the bands best album, but it might be the most rewarding and exciting upon multiple listens. In any case, my mind has come to a stalemate with Geogaddi. I have finally admitted that I enjoy the album, and it continues to supply me with surprises and fun. And yet at the same time, I look at it from a distance with confusion and contempt, while it continues to baffle and disturb me.

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