BOARDS OF CANADA
Spin, May 2002
by Simon Reynolds
Genrephobes have had it easy lately. It's been a while since electronica coughed up any New Sounds of note.
The only real contender at present is a strain of techno characterized by wistful, rustic melody and occasionally even folky acoustic instrumentation. Unlike the "chill-out" movement of the early '90s, which emerged from rave culture and balm for Ecstasy comedowns, "bucolica" — or, if that sounds too much like a fungal infection, "idyllictronica" — is a product of the more austere Intelligent Dance Music scene. Distilling the pastoralism of Ultramarine and the naive melodies of Mouse on Mars down to their dreamy but desolate essence, it can be a soundtrack for childhood reverie or the audio equivalent of recovered-memory therapy.
Idyllictronica's aesthetic first crystallized on Boards of Canada's 1998 debut, Music Has the Right to Children. The Scottish duo favours smudgy, just slightly out-of-tune analog synth tones evocative of faded home movies and washed-out photographs (like the sun-bleached family-vacation snaps on Children's cover). Geogaddi keeps the flashbacks flowing: crinkle-in-time melodies, crisply textured slow-mo breakbeats, song titles ('Dandelion', 'The Beach at Redpoint') that echo the music's aura of bygone halcyon. It's a thoroughly satisfying album, but surprises are in short supply. The only really new twist is the vocoderized singing on tracks like 'Music Is Math', which adds the sound of a choir of androids to the group's soulfully unearthly palette.
Like Boards of Canada, Takagi Masakatsu loves to sample children's voices, even giving a liner-note shoutout to "kids around the world on many tracks". But Masakatsu's digital vocabulary is more contemporary, closer to CD-skip auteurs Oval or laptop folkie Fennesz. Tracks like 'Eau' and 'Cino Piano' weave birdsong, trickling water, the chatter of kids at play, and the jittery hums of temperamental hardware into a tapestry as roseate as a sunset-drenched skyline. By the end of the last track, 'Videocamera' — an 18-minute mosaic of playground hubbub, music-box chimes, and tremulous electronic textures — it's like the air itself is aching with delight. Pia is the sonic equivalent of Proust's madeleine cake, setting the listener adrift on memory bliss.