In mid-February of 2002, Boards of Canada geared up for the release of their highly anticipated and faux controversial sophomore release, Geogaddi. News of the band being involved in Satanic and alternative surroundings soon flourished through social media and press related releases, which eventually caused the brothers to cave and do several interviews themselves to clear up reputation issues and state that they were just two musicians interested in composing and putting together music.
It’s easy to see how such accusations could spread. Prior to the release of Geogaddi, an Extended Play entitled In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country was delivered to the public and contained several references to the notorious U.S.A. based Branch Davidians led by David Koresh. In fact, an image of Koresh is used in the album artwork for the EP. As a follow up, Geogaddi contains a track called “1969” which contains a vocal sample which contains a back masked message that, when reversed, says the name “David Koresh.”
However, putting aside the bad press (or good, depending on how you look at it) surrounding the Sandison’s during this era of their music, “1969” is one of the most phenomenal tracks on the record and has since become a fan favorite, some even dubbing it one of the band’s signature songs. On the surface, it’s an easily accessible Electronic jam with rhythmic aspects which, in structure, subtly hint toward hip-hop and several manipulated vocal samples to create a spoken melody. It carries a summer vibe, with bright synth pads, beautiful atmospherics and a strong percussion presence.
Digging deeper, it’s actually possible to completely lose yourself inside the song. Just thinking about the signal chain and technicalities it took to create the crisp atmosphere that the percussion executes during the song is head spinning. There’s smart equalization on the hats and snare to give them an extremely crisp sound and by taking out the majority of the low end of such instruments, allows the huge kick and bass a distinct amount of low-frequency space to roam about the song without sounding muddy. Following EQ, is a compressor of some sorts which sounds absolutely wonderful on every single instrument it’s outputting. The kick packs punch, the snare has smack – it’s perfect and while the compressor runs hot, it’s not squashing the dynamics of the tracks in the slightest. To top it all off? The most beautiful reverb placed on the whole of the kit, with a separate and more prominent verb on the snare.
“1969” shows us what subtle & specific EQ cuts and boosts can do for a mix. The track’s first set of vocal samples do not sound cluttered against the sharp high’s of the snare and hi-hat, but instead are balanced in a mid to high frequency range and produce different harmonics because of the pitch shifting Boards of Canada applied to it. It’s interesting to note that the same lyrics are featured in “Poppy Seed (Boards of Canada Remix)” by Slag Boom Van Loon, but the vocals sound completely different from each other. It’s safe to say that a vast amount of processing was done on the “1969” samples to allow them to be more melodic and fit into the song more.
The second set of lyrics, “1969 in the sunshine,” utilize a chorus effect to stick far out into the mix and grab the listeners attention over anything else playing, but still allowing for the other aspects of the track to sound consistent.
The best thing about this track is the fact that everything is attention seeking at one point or another, but nothing fights for your attention. A song where all parts remain equal and balanced, but at the same time, can completely captivate you at different moments in the song, and different moments upon each listen is something to be cherished and celebrated. “1969” accomplishes this and allows the track to ebb and flow and sound effortlessly put together. If I were the Sandison’s I would be proud.
In fact, the list of things Marcus Eion & Mike Sandison should be proud of could go on for an infinite amount of pages. Genre defying albums, layered samples reminiscent of childhood and the Occult, a idiosyncratic style of production utilizing mainly analog means, and a diehard following that currently has a 51 page thread at the fansite twoism.org, on a small black box which appeared on the discography section of the band’s website – each one of the members (myself included) refreshing daily, hoping for a sign of a new release.
Note: This article was supposed to give an overview of the entire Geogaddi experience, but literally every single track on the record could be broken down into an eight hundred word article. It’s not a coincidence that this is Boards of Canada’s most successful album to date. It’s worth a listen, two listens, five million listens. Just purchase it, or at the very least, check out “1969”.