Music Has the Right to Children…the faceless, brooding IDM titan indeed proves this notion truer than most, begetting countless electronic artists over the years, inspiring legions of nostalgic, watercolor-tinged dark horses, who all walk under the same turquoise hexagon sun. Scottish brothers Marcus Eoin and Michael Sandison have always been an elusive pair, both in their methods and in their sonic landscapes, which need to be seen (heard) to be believed: lush enough to create their own world, mysterious enough to inspire you to explore it, and dense enough to leave you lost and wandering, though you won’t want to leave once you get that far. Truly, if anyone deserves the right to children, it is indeed the music of Boards of Canada.
On the surface, things are admittedly barren. Boards’ core is a mix between mechanical Autechre-esque IDM, replete with complex beats and an almost inhuman factor present, and blissful, nostalgic ambient wonderment – the resulting sound is truly dreamy. More so, it carries a child-like innocence, a curiosity for one’s surroundings planted in the album’s ambient nature and whimsical sound – walking home from school on a sunny afternoon, Converse strapped to your feet; going out in the forest with your friends on a cloudy morning in the 70s to make a movie with your dad’s Super 8. Though beats are a prominent feature, it’s the subtleties laced throughout this album that make it misleadingly rich, and though it’s not as dense as their 2002 follow-up Geogaddi, it’s this subtler approach that grants Music the edge as the duo’s most ambiguous effort – some listeners might walk away having heard something very warm and peaceful, while others will walk away deeply disturbed (look no further than “The Color of the Fire”). Another fascination of the duo and part of the overall sound of Boards’ is subliminal messaging, and music’s potency to influence people, which lends to the elusive, almost secretive nature of the album as well. It’s misty and vague, and though it might not immediately gratify, most of Music’s treasures are buried beneath the surface and you will discover them on repeated listens.
Music is often considered their magnum opus, commanding great respect from advocates of 90s IDM up with the likes of Aphex Twin and Autechre, and having an influence on future electronic artists such as Lone and Tycho. However, it is frequently debated between this album and Geogaddi as to which is superior, almost to the point of being some kind of internal rivalry. Though at one point I would have dismissed this as impossible to decide, with both albums proving to be extremely well-crafted in their own separate ways, lately it’s not even a choice, and I don’t even dispute Geo being the better album anymore. Music still remains a cornerstone in my musical endeavors and a standard to which future albums are held, and so it pains me to feel so lukewarm about something I was once so passionate about. Why then, is this?
Music and Geo have their similarities, but they each travel down different roads. Geo is Boards’ darkest full-length album, complete with subliminal messages, backmasking, subconscious-rattling percussion, and hellish synths straight from the musings of a dying world. Infamously clocking in a 66 minutes and 6 seconds, the album fills this time to the brim with layered songs, every one of which bringing a new idea to the template, from the album’s petite 30-second vignettes to its full-blown “core” songs. Geo is effective because it’s constantly morphing, yet also droning at the right times to pull the listener through some truly intense sounds. So, if Geo is the more aggressive mindfucker, laden with its own trypophobic niches for the listener to fill in, then Music is the coloring book, clearly representing its boundaries and contours, yet requiring the listener’s own experiences and perspective to bring it to life. Nostalgia is a driving factor, and while both albums possess this trait, Music associates it more with discovery, innocence, and joy, whereas it’s younger sibling evokes feelings of remorse, danger, and melancholy. Music’s tracks are also noticeably more beat-driven where Geo frequently drifts into formless ambient, and also wields more varied percussion. On the whole, Geogaddi can be seen as the more dynamic, twisted album, and Music the more hypnotic, subtle one. Of course, the best part of Boards’ sound is the ambiguity, so some people might feel it’s the other way around.
So why has Music lost the edge for this reviewer? I was certainly confused after revisiting it after a pretty long break, this being such an important album to me at one point and still holding up remarkably well with it being my second most-played album ever. Music is much more situational, requiring a deal of focus – like other Boards of Canada albums, should be listened to from front to back to truly sink into the atmosphere – but also needing a much more specific mindset, with its treasures literally brushing by like a tiny breeze. If that’s the case, then Geogaddi is more like a chilling wind that can seize your attention, as opposed to a lukewarm one. This isn’t to say Music is too subtle for its own good, bordering on unnoticeable, because it’s quite dark and foreboding in its own ways, but in this reviewer’s humble opinion, Geogaddi is the better album – more detailed, equivocally gripping and subtle, and impactful, as an album from front to back or in bite-sized listens. Music almost feels distant, not seeming to care whether or not it’s liked, and as warm as it feels exploring Boards’ landmark record, I also feel unwelcome, like a trespasser in a seemingly empty place, and it’s a little scary. But I’ll be damned if even after all these years I’ve found anything quite like it.