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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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6 comments

  1. What’s even more interesting is that some of the vocal samples from this album are ripped from a (for lack of a better term) recruitment video by the Branch Davidians, and that the EP that predated the release of this album (2000’s A Beautiful Place Out In The Country) has a song named after one of the higher ups in that organization (“Amos Poe Rodan”).

    Another piece of the puzzle that tends to get neglected with this album is the Japanese bonus track “One Source From Which All Things Depend”, which consists of nothing but a simple synth melody played underneath samples of children’s prayers and discussions about their ideas about God.

    While not their most ground-breaking album, more often than not this is the album of theirs I return to most. It may be the aural equivalent of a Rubik’s Cube, but dissecting and making sense of the intricacies of this album has been endlessly rewarding over the years. A brilliant body of work overall.


  2. Hey i know this is an old post, but i’ve been scanning your entire blog for like an hour now!
    Just wanted to share my thoughts on this album, cause im a huge BoC fan.

    When i first got this album I was oblivious to all the “hidden” stuff. and i would listen to the album like it was nothing. i enjoyed it on the same melodically soothing level i did MHTRTC. and it wasn’t until i was reading on wikipedia one day trying to find out if they were going to release something new sometime soon that there was all this questionable stuff in Geogaddi. Which i then proceeded to study for like 3 hours in my house after midnight alone. Kind of a bad idea?
    Since that day of research i haven’t really gone back to the album. It no longer has it’s appeal of soothing, it’s just unsettling. There are a couple of tracks i’ll go back to, but i think overall i’m over the album.
    Truth is, i can never get enough of “Music…” and i’m finding myself listening to campfire more.
    AAAND i’m totally digging all the EPs.

    “Left Side Drive” and “Everything You Do is a Ballon” are phenomenal tracks to me.

    Anyway, *long comment* but felt like sharing.

    ‘Enjoy your blog!
    Justin


  3. Just wanted to chime in and say that this is my favorite album by BoC. I love them all, but the creepy mystique keeps me coming back.
    Subliminal or not, I wish there were more “what if’s” in music.


  4. I have been deeply interested in this concept for the past few weeks. Boards of Canada is no doubt dark and mysterious and FULL of subliminal messages.

    In the track A is to B is to C, the lyrics and melodies constantly switch from forwards to backwards speech. When reversed there is a really creepy message that repeats saying “you cant go out in the woods today, youd much rather go when no ones away” in the rhythm du-dum du-dudda-du-dum du-dum du-dum du-dudda-du-dum du-dum…

    very weird


  5. mediocra


  6. An exert from a BoC interview that I found very interesting.

    Marcus: “If you’re in a position where you’re making recordings of music that thousands of people are going to listen to repeatedly, it gets you thinking, ‘What can we do with this? We could experiment with this…’ And so we do try to add elements that are more than just the music. Sometimes we just include voices to see if we can trigger ideas, and sometimes we even design tracks musically to follow rules that you just wouldn’t pick up on consciously, but unconsciously, who knows? ‘The Devil Is In The Details’ has a riff that was designed to imitate a specific well-known equation, but in musical terms. Maybe it won’t mean anything to anyone, but it’s interesting just to try it. We do things like this sometimes.”



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