The influential Boards Of Canada began a long play of silence after the release of 2006’s Trans Canada Highway. During this downtime, their fan base had released a compilation series of pieces inspired by generally chilled out Electronic music called One on Twoism, a 422 page thread on fan message board Twoism.org appropriately titled General New Release Speculation Topic, and dug deep into the band’s back catalog of music while patiently (and, at times, impatiently) waiting for what Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin would produce next. After an extravagant month long viral marketing campaign that took us through the aforementioned Twoism.org, into music shops on National Record Store Day, all over YouTube, NPR, and eventually to their official website, an official album was announced; Tomorrow’s Harvest.
The marketing campaign itself was a no-brainer, seeing as though a well established band with a connected audience is normally able to make strives through unconventional and unique promotional strategies (see Nine Inch Nails’ Year Zero ARG), and with the well received publicity the duo was also able to portray a small, threatening back story about the album. These were grounds not normally covered by the introverted brothers, making this sort of journey an interesting twist in artistic and career milestone events. Listeners have mostly been left with auditory clues to draw their own conclusion toward what each Boards of Canada project consisted of and while this release certainly leaves an open ended vision, a small glimpse of insight was shown this time without the band having to show much at all.
It’s translucent by the album artwork and marketing vision that Tomorrow’s Harvest is, for the most part, gloomy. To further this claim, the record’s first single, “Reach For the Dead,” and the accompanying video demonstrate a strongly distinguished perspective toward a cinematic, somber theme. From the opening kick, looped static-esque recordings, panned high and low synth instrumentation, and swirling background melodies – the vision clearly walks a fine line between complete desolation and reborn hope. Interestingly enough, its layers move and unfold to unleash arpeggios, a buried vocal sample that speaks the word “listen,” and stereo percussion to progressively further the song through its conventional song structure – all in all ending the track on a more optimistic note than when it began. What this single does is accurately portray the feelings inside most of this album’s run by incorporating pessimistic tones, running optimistic notes through them, and creating a sort of end and new beginning outlook through smart use of floating unconventionally through musical ideas.
These changes work extremely well when it comes toward the signature Boards of Canada atmosphere. The opening track “Gemini” begins with a small fanfare before moving into a minimal, stereo driven opening, that eventually dives straight into uneasy synth-bass lines that are so beyond destroyed that all of the light within the first few seconds of the track are completely tarnished. Arpeggio elements continue to thrive through this opener, as they do through most of Tomorrow’s Harvest, and analog static sounds bury themselves through the stereo mix throughout the entirety of the record as well. What results from “Gemini” is an extremely ambient opener that in two minutes and fifty-six seconds becomes a brilliant precursor to what’s to be explored, thematically on the Sandison’s release.
Tomorrow’s Harvest is a sonically clean record. There’s not a lot of noise or layers to get lost in at times, and its ambiance plays the most important part. The reverberations that make up the ambiance, the depth-seeking delays, and stereo imaging throughout it are the most crucial portions of the entire whole. Without it, the record would become discombobulated and inconsistent. Instead, it thrives. In fact, the dynamic range, which averages at a gorgeous 10dB (12dB on the vinyl!) is Boards of Canada’s most open record yet. As a result of this exquisite take on engineering, production, and light mastering, loud and quite aspects of the album are able to take on their own respective niches in the sonic mix – allowing more freedom in dedication for creating their own specific build-ups and come-downs inside each track.
Because of the delicate nature of each song’s mix, the percussion sometimes sounds a bit thin. While this could take some getting used to, considering Boards of Canada mostly strive for a more aggressive approach to mixing, the punch and natural envelopes of the end result of each instrument inside of every track flourishes in an organic way that’s a shining ingredient of Tomorrow’s Harvest.
“New Seeds” is one of the finest examples of how these punchy build-ups and come-downs work. Its psychedelically-funked out in a way that makes it a darker, brooding cousin to Music Has a Right To Children’s “Aquarius.” For the most part, an urgency is seen through the main, delayed synthesized line, with slothful percussion and bass-line elements carrying the tune’s conflicting structures. About halfway through this song, flowing melodic, reverberated lines drop, leaving room for a riveting change in direction – in some way, the new, faded in synth constituents allow the track to take on a bit jazz feel. The feel is subtle, as the track is still highly electronic, with its anatomy highly formulated – but by the end of the song, the all too familiar transmission from the viral marketing marks a complete tear down in feel for the song, leading its aggression fully out and permitting relaxation to take hold. The following song, “Come to Dust” holds onto the original mood created in “New Seeds,” but explores it through full downtempo fury, rather than incorporating any sense of rush inside of its composition.
Where the album falls flat is its lack of playfulness. At times, its almost too introverted, too secluded, that it’s difficult to grasp the raw, emotional feel that’s presented in Tomorrow’s Harvest’s political undertones. Perhaps, it is because this change hasn’t yet happened in our world, or maybe it’s because the record takes itself almost too seriously at times, but it’s still a successful experimental piece of musical spectrum. The best place to look for experimentation is “Jacquard Causeway,” which sends synthesized bits floating in and out of the stereo image for six minutes, while warped percussion drags on.
Backtracking through Tomorrow’s Harvest, there’s a small segment through all of the darkness that is so uplifting and optimistic, so light and fluffy that it’s almost impossible to want to recognize the darkness that fuels it. “Nothing is Real,” is one of the most accessible, relaxing, beautiful tracks throughout Boards of Canada’s entire discography. It’s a straightforward instrumental that pulls chilled out percussion sections amongst tranquil melodic top lines, and flowing, underlying melodies. Darkness roams within the manipulated vocals, which mostly lie incomprehensible and tucked under the mix, until the middle section allows for a demolished, frightening main vocal to take hold. “Jesus, was it you indeed, to flirt unkindly with my greed, promising eternal life, when you knew it was not right. When you knew that what I’d need was oneness and comfort there.” As with most vocal samples throughout Mike and Marcus’ catalog, the human voice contributes genuine understanding and powerful, emotional impact. If there’s one song with the most repeat value, it’s this one.
Repeat value for Tomorrow’s Harvest is rare as it should be explored as an unbroken piece, meaning it’s targeted more to be played as an album than it is a record ran to for a quick listen to a few key tracks. “Uritual” and “Sundown” are the preceded and proceeded track to “Nothing is Real,” but are essential to understanding the song squeezed in the middle of them. In pure atmosphere, the two songs glide through melancholic feelings, while handling the more humanistic approach to a post-apocalyptic realm. They work together in creating an immense mood that separates the accessibly catchy from the stern, grin, and thoughtful vibe meant to be created throughout the album. “Transmissions Ferox” and “Collapse” also work in the same way. The short track that stands out the most is “Telepath,” which utilizes an extremely frightening mood before launching into the following song. “Telegraph” various vocals are vague, but strung together to recall number stations, and an almost possessed string of layers that state “Could I get the one voice? Nervous! Don’t be nervous.”
Still, there are the other long play tracks such as “White Cyclosa” which plays more like a track the contemporary Boreal Network (more) would put together. As well as “Sick Times” and “Cold Earth” which follow a more strict arrangement. “Palace Posy” is another stand out which contains garbled, stereo spread vocals which bring together the song, creating an undeniable march toward progressive, alternative, Intelligent Dance Music direction.
At the end of the day, Tomorrow’s Harvest is a great return to form for Boards of Canada and it interestingly segues through it’s political awareness and human maturity enough to be taken for an extremely introspective piece of art. It’s Mike and Marcus Sandison’s most well executed and engineered record to date, and definitely worth the seven year wait filled with Peter Serafinowicz rumors of a double album, FACTMag’s cheeky April Fools joke, and countless individuals wondering if the band has thrown in the towel. For those worried that this record may be the last, fear not. In an interview with De:Bug Musik, Marcus responded to a question asking if this record feels like it’s a beginning or an end, stating “It feels like neither of those things from our perspective because we’ve always been working! We’d be making music anyway even if nobody was listening, and we’ve no intention of stopping, so this is just a continuation.”
Tomorrow’s Harvest, overall, is a stunning continuation and while there’s no definite news of what’s to come next, we hope the two don’t wait until we’re all Semena Mertvykh.
Special note: Thank you to the individuals over at FACTMag, NPR, Pitchfork, The Guardian, Spin Magazine, The Consequence of Sound, bocpages.org, and every individual who helped out through social media platforms, the comments section of this blog, and emails for all of the love and support throughout our coverage of Tomorrow’s Harvest. Words cannot express all of the gratitude. For a list of links and accomplishments due to this coverage, please click here.