Saturday, August 6, 2016

Boards Of Canada - Trans Canada Highway (Original TC Review)

Warp Records: 2006

(2016 Update:
Another first-time review of a major act, another review with redundant information now that I've long since reviewed many more albums from said act. At least I didn't get too heavy into it with this EP, providing an obligatory (if flakey) backstory, with a thrown in theory to boot. It's a good theory, my thoughts on the Boards' popularity, but one that had already been floating around, namely that of 'hauntology'. A rather obscure term, Simon Reynolds really explored it in describing the aesthetic of acts like Boards Of Canada (among others like Burial and label Ghost Box). Not that I had any realization of that in here, a decade ago, but yeah, totally reiterating concepts with far more studies into them by people who get paid for such things.

Left Side Drive just might be my favorite Boards tune, though you wouldn't know from this review. Seems every time I hear it again, it draws me ever deeper into that warm bass and distant dub, losing my headspace in reflections of traversing British Columbian wilderness. It's like Silent Season distilled into five minutes of sonic bliss, and so worth repeated plays of this pleasant little EP. Hey, remember when we thought this might be the last thing Boards would ever release? Fun times!)


IN BRIEF: Traveling in Canada.

I’ve seen few fanbases grow as quickly, as widespread, and as fanatical as for the enigmatic group Boards Of Canada. Appearing seemingly out of nowhere when Warp released their album Music Has The Right To Children, they gave an ailing intelligent techno scene (or IDM, if you will) a much needed boost in the late 90s when many producers had either tried and failed at commercial success (‘electronica’) or plummeted into incomprehensible experimentation. BoC provided the antidote: interesting sonic experiments, but without abandoning digestible rhythms and melodies.

It was more than that though. BoC’s music contains an undeniable nostalgic tinge to it. Many have tried to explain how they do it but none have managed to come up with a concrete theory; which, along with a scarce back catalogue, has added to their mystique.

I won’t claim to have that answer either, but I will offer my own theory: Boards Of Canada create the music of memories. Not yours, or mine, or anyone’s in particular, but of memories itself; or rather, how we hear music in our own memories. Despite our best efforts, when music plays back in our minds it is never quite accurate, and clings at the edge of our consciousness, fading over time. BoC’s lo-fi production seems to replicate this remarkably well, and when warm, pleasing synth tones are used, childhood memories are instinctively thought of. With such universal appeal, its little wonder even indie rockers melt at hearing a Boards Of Canada melody.

Of course, BoC shouldn’t be restrained by single musical ideas, but this is where their main appeal lies. After delving into organic instrumentation on last year’s The Campfire Headphase, many of their fans were very happy to hear a return to the sound of Children on this release, Trans Canada Highway. But despite being less a single for Dayvan Cowboy (of which two versions bookend this) and more of a mini-album, there’s still very little new material that’ll satisfy their rabid fans.

For casual fans though, two tracks should interest them: Left Side Drive and Skyliner. Unlike Dayvan, which willfully makes use of orchestral arrangements and acoustic guitars along with various electronic trickery, these two are quite vintage in their production. Left Side Drive lets lazy, dubby rhythms stroll along while warm, hazy pads float in the background. And Skyliner makes a more immediate presence with quicker scattering rhythms and leading synths. While perhaps simple in their presentation, especially compared to Dayvan, both should satisfy if you crave BoC’s older style. The other two are merely ambient interludes, which are common in many of their albums. Pleasant enough, but hardly essential.

As for the remix of Dayvan, Odd Nosdam does the drone ambient thing, seemingly playing up the ‘memory’ aspect of BoC’s music with one of their own tracks. Between stretches of white noise interludes, bits of Dayvan crop up, then fades away before returning to droning sounds. An interesting listen but, like the other ambient parts of Trans Canada Highway, that is all.

Ultimately, this EP is a sparse, lonely listen, which makes sense given the title. As anyone that has driven the Trans Canada Highway can attest to, or any highway in lightly populated areas of Canada for that matter, it can be a lonesome experience (great scenery though). Having grown up in parts of the country where significant towns are often up to three hours apart, I’d travel long stretches of winding, single-lane roads snaking across mountain-sides and through forests, the only company being those in your car and the intermittent vehicle passing by. Trans Canada Highway, when listened to as a whole, uncannily replicates such a trip... or maybe that’s just that memory thing again. Still, for a Scottish duo, they are quite good at capturing aspects of Canadiana along with incredibly nostalgic music.

Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2006. © All rights reserved.


ACE TRACKS:
Left Side Drive
Skyliner

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