Album Reviews

Boards of Canada – The Campfire Headphase

(Warp) UK release date: 17 October 2005

Now revealed as brothers, Scots Mike and MarcusEoin Sanderson have built up something of a cultishfollowing since the 1998 debut Boards Of Canada albumMusic Has The Right To Children. But it was theallegedly malevolent intentions of 2002’s Geogaddithat brought forth all manner of blogger theories andvaulting conclusions.

Though firmly denied, the duo aren’t totallyblameless. The artwork for Geogaddi’s lead-off EPIn A Beautiful Place Out In The Country featured still of David Koresh’s Waco compound in theAmerican deep south, and the duo’s seemingly distantScottish locale drew inevitable Wicker Man comparisonsin these fearfully folkish times.

However, mystique can be the motor of expectation.And to say the misty morning hues of The CampfireHeadphase are eagerly awaited would be anunderstatement. Or should that be the memory ofmisty morning hues?

For once wrapped in the faded, shaded unravellingof Satellite Anthem Icarus or the charm-like folds ofPeacock Tail, one cannot be sure whether this softlygiddying glissade is original material, or somemanifestation of collective unconsciousness. Well,generous ol’ me is willing to give the Sandersonbrothers full credit for this supreme collection offuture-perfect broken nostalgia.

Though using acoustic, analogue instruments intandem for the first time with their aladdin’s cave ofelectronic delights, The Campfire Headphase was stillrecorded and re-recorded in the Boards Of Canada wayof source to source ad infinitum, expunging thecrystalline detail and ready assembled meaning that’sbest left to lesser mortals.

Perhaps more upbeat than its predecessor, there isstill something of Geogaddi’s under-the-surfacedisquiet, a grainy cousin of AngeloBadalementi‘s score for Mulholland Drive.Obscured signposts like Tears From The Compound Eyeand Oscar See Through Red Eye are half-rememberedplayground laments, hinting at devilish archetypes,where something wicked may be lurking just behind theschoolhouse.

Hey Saturday Sun’s hazy cowbell and shifting,glistening guitar is the retrofit soundtrack to ahalf-remembered, sun-blind beach holiday, yet suffusewith intimations of an all-too-adult uncertainty andforeboding. Curiously though, The Campfire Headphase,like all other Boards Of Canada werks, side-steps anyintimations of bleakness by stripping away callousedlayers of forgetfulness to provoke suppressedwide-eyed wonder. It’s a combination perfectly inharmony with the technologies and suspicions of apost-millenial world.

As minimal as The Campfire Headphase often is,Boards Of Canada are no Stars Of The Lid.Dayvan Cowboy smoulders in melancholic isolationbefore flowering chromatically with FourTet-like crashing cymbals and elevating strings.

The track-titles just might be red herrings (likeGeogaddi’s The Devil Is In The Details) orthey may be knowing references to conceptual thinking.The few seconds of A Moment Of Clarity just might beprima facie evidence that the Sandersonsiblings understand that clear thought might not beall its cracked up to be, while the flutteringConstants Are Changing may well be a nod in thedirection of the duo’s mathematical approach tocomposition. Best leave that to the obsessives.

Still, no boffin is required to understand that TheCampfire Headphase will be another prime number in theyear’s list of most wanted albums. And that’s noconspiracy theory.

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Boards of Canada – The Campfire Headphase