20 years ago, Boards of Canada’s “Music Has the Right to Children” was released, promptly and justifiably being heralded as a watershed in what was homogenously termed “Electronic Music”. However, the inevitable puffy-eyed nostalgia flooding the album for its 20th anniversary runs the risk of beaching what is perhaps a greater work, 2005’s overlooked opus “The Campfire Headphase”. Lacking the transgressive innovation of “Music Has the Right to Children” only because of the shifting tides of popular music from 1998 to 2005, the more organic and less overtly electronic exterior of “The Campfire Headphase” discloses not a drought of creativity, but an abundance of it. Of all the duo’s releases, this is the album that most seamlessly and adroitly blends the earthly and the artificial; the woodland and the city; sacred pastoralism and profane urbanity. And isn’t that what Boards of Canada are all about?
A fair amount has already been written about the pair’s altered working practices on the album. “The Campfire Headphase” consists of fewer samples and digitally manipulated effects than their previous two full-length albums, instead incorporating the novelties of acoustic instrumentation. Indeed, it is the interplay of folksy finger-picking and glacial electronic futurism that define the album through the very difficulty of defining the album, providing it with a malleable identity that remains perpetually, tantalizingly in flux. This is captured in “Constants are Changing”, a hazy fever-dream of gently plucked guitar and swirling synths, the melody fluttering just out of reach.
The band’s new methods, beyond providing the album’s central intrigue, often yield astonishing results on a song-by-song basis. “Dayvan Cowboy” intercuts noise-rock fuzz, sparklingly reverberant guitar, splashy sampled drums and laconic lift-music keyboard into a surging, richly realized whole. The proto-vaporwave (if an album made in 2005 can be the “proto” precursor to a genre reliant on slowing down ‘80s songs) of “84 Pontiac Dream” drifts by with a slick, melancholy impersonality, culminating in a gorgeously wistful guitar epilogue, and “Chromakey Dreamcoat” spins a wobblingly askew riff into mordant, ghostly soundscapes.
By the time the flickering, underwater keyboard line of concluding track “Farewell Fire” has spooled off into darkness, “The Campfire Headphase” has established itself as a strikingly cohesive blend of the organic and the electronic, and the most coherently realised summation of its creators yet. The digitized naturalism of the album is both its central paradox and greatest strength, ironically drawing more attention for its virtual invisibility and seamlessness. An album equally suited to pastoralism and cyberpunk. A
Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2zKARkpDW4