Ever since the release of Music Has the Right to Children in 1998, the alternately nostalgic and deeply unnerving ambient music of Boards of Canada has captivated a small, cultish fanbase. There are the thousands of YouTube videos trying to emulate the hallucinogenic quality of the Scottish duo’s songs. There are the meticulous efforts to discover the messages hidden in their music, such as the back-masked allusions to David Koresh in “1969." And today, for the first time in eight years, Boards of Canada has give fans a new album to obsess over: Tomorrow’s Harvest.
Of course, this being Boards of Canada, they couldn’t simply send out a press release. First, there was a mysterious album found at New York’s Other Music on Record Store Day—one of six sent out in a Willy Wonka-esque marketing strategy—featuring 20 seconds of cryptic audio. A week later, a similarly cryptic commercial appeared on Adult Swim. Finally, the group held a one-time only live-streaming of the album last Monday.
It did not disappoint.
The hypnotic beats are there. The short interludes with robotic voices between songs are still there. The music remains densely layered. It’s like Boards of Canada never left. They just got a lot bleaker. In a rare interview, BoC co-founder Mike Sandison told the Guardian, “We've become a lot more nihilistic over the years.” Sandison and Marcus Eoin crafted Tomorrow’s Harvest to evoke the soundtracks of old slasher films, and that’s perhaps most evident in the arpeggiated synths of “White Cyclosa.” Even the more danceable tracks, like the propulsive “Palace Posy,” have a menacing feel hanging over them. “New Seeds” provides an upbeat throwback to the group’s pre-Geogaddi music, but it is followed by the darkest track on the album—the effect is like MacReady killing the alien in The Thing only to realize he’s stranded in the Antarctic.
The best description I’ve ever heard of Boards of Canada’s first two albums is that Music was like wandering about the woods during the day, while Geogaddi was like wandering around the same forest at night, everything seeming far more sinister and dangerous. Tomorrow’s Harvest is like wandering around in the barren wasteland after the forest has been torn down.