First it should be noted that this is a re-issue of BOC's fabled first EP from 1995, not to be confused with their 2002 release Geogaddi. Fabled, you say? Well reports indicate that copies of the original pressing have fetched upwards of five-hundred bucks on Ebay. Five hundred bucks! More than a copy of Stereolab's Music for the Amorphous Body ever fetched, I'm sure, and more in the league of the original pressing of Belle & Sebastian's Tigermilk. If anything, I hope I've given you a clue as to what kind of T-shirts fans of Boards of Canada might be wearing. If you haven't guessed it, Boards of Canada is Techno music for Indie-Rock people.
Boards of Canada give Indie kids who don't go to clubs something to mention when they are asked if they like Techno music. They can say, I don't really care for Techno, but I like 'IDM.' Do you like Boards of Canada, or Kreidler, or To Rococo Rot, or Autechre, or Plaid, or Aphex Twin?...The soft edge of BOC's music somehow lends itself more to people who are less hardcore about associating themselves with the sheer creativity of the sounds being created. Much more watered-down than Aphex Twin, less artistic, more stylized, and more tuneful, BOC have an advantage when entering a market for people who are accustomed to hearing 'songs' rather than 'sounds'. Case in point, BOC's 1st proper full length, Music has a Right to Children, was one of the biggest selling Electronic albums in recent years and certainly one of Warp/Matadors giant successes of late. Consider that Matador was for many years the final word in Indie Rock-now what does that tell you about BOC's Indie/'IDM' cross-ever appeal?
Now if you're wondering what this 'IDM' business is, I'll explain. It couldn't be simply called Dance music, because that sounds too stupid, doesn't it? If you're from the suburbs like me, the phrase 'Dance music' might not amount to much more than the 'get laid, get fucked' section of 'Mony Mony.' Instead, the computer geeks that are programming this kind of music are calling this Intelligent Dance Music, or IDM, because they, aproiri to music, believe that they themselves are intelligent. Funny, I think, to actually say that about the music.
On a purely musical level, BOC's debut is more compelling to me than what came after it (2000's Music has a Right to Children). Although the recordings are more basic, every song manages the awesome feat of staying true to its own mini-concept. While these concepts are similar from song to song, there is still a good deal of pleasure to have by listening to this record. Two-ism starts with Krautrock, which is cold and white, and uses 'IDM' beats morphed into Hip-Hop beats to trick and seduce the gatekeeper troll that divides and separates mass cultures. At some point, somehow, the tricky-dicky IDM beat magically shifts into a undeniable pop on the three-count and poof! You are listening to Hip-Hop! Unlike most Teutonic explorations before it, Twoism manages not to conjure scenes of frigid German engineers in laboratories. Rather, I see headphones, hunched Djays, turntables and mixers. 'They are baggy, let them through,' says the troll.
Let me lay down Twoism's method. Start with the Krautrock approach, where two or three keyboards or synthesizers with distinctly different sounds are played at the same time on top of each other to build 'an atmosphere' of sound. In this case, most of those sounds are gentle, washy, wavy, chimy, or dreamy-and mostly bendy and swirly. To enhance the charm of this excersize, many of the melodies within this tapestry consist of only two or three notes, slowly repeated. This creates a result similar to only using primary colors on a canvas. Next, make loops out of these keyboard sounds, which is in the Techno-tradition, but not with the obnoxious and syncopated melodies most associated with Techno music. Lastly, a beat. Many songs contain Hip-Hop beats that are a combination of live drum sounds and computer sounds. The beat is created and then looped over the keyboard tracks. However, the rhythm of the two elements of keyboards and beats do not sync-up in an obvious manner. Because they are both loops, there is obviously some pattern which emerges eventually, even if it is not regular. Drop-out breaks and changes are allowed from time to time; but were it not for repetition, there would be no Boards of Canada.
The title track is mellow-tronica set to a fat Hip-Hop beat. 'Seeya Later' puts that beat over keyboards which are warped and seasick, barely standing. 'Basefree' is a slamming Drum n' Bass track left on spin-cycle in an aquarium size washing machine. 'Iced Cooly' is a criminally dope New Wave drum track topped with psychotically ill keyboards, devoid of tonal center. 'Smokes County' is a sexual, opulent, waterbed of tone, served over a stiff and deliberate Hip-Hop beat.
Furthermore, Twoism introduces a band that is strictly instrumental by virtue. By taking the human voice out of the music, BOC create a ghostly anonymity that allows them to creep like invisible librarians shuffling boxes unnoticed across this bridge. Taking the bits that they like, leaving others to collect dust, creating their own vision of where Rock, Techno, and Hip-Hop might assemble, BOC posit no cultural voice to direct the music. I'm sorry if you disagree. Music is politics. It has boundaries. Not to say that those boundaries can't be broken, but you can't say that anyone can just like what they like regardless of all of the cultural baggage and implications. Everybody has a reason for everything that they like. Also because there is nobody singing, there is none of the imposition of faulty concept or puerile poetry that is common in so much music. There is room to think your own thoughts. It's nice to have that kind of space in music. Unfortunately, a lot of this music makes me want to do aerobics or ride a stationary bike. That's what metronomes do for me.
This is all really promising with respect to the big picture, because there is absolutely no reason why this aforementioned bridge that I am speaking of shouldn't be crossed at some point. Anything to get that asinine video game music off the radio. I wanna see Hip-Hop lifers, not just the avant-guard of record collecting MCs, but the masses of people who listen to nothing but Hip-Hop, acknowledge just how good Indie Rock is. It needs to happen. It's a two-way bridge. Boards of Canada have major artistic cross-over appeal, and I can only hope it entices people on the other side.
© 2003 jonathan donaldson