Student Life Archives (2001-2008)

Boards of Canada: “The Campfire Headphase”

Dan Daranciang

Boards of Canada
The Campfire Headphase
Grade: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Bottom line: sounds best sans guitar
For fans of: Aphex Twin, Air, DJ Shadow
Songs to download: “Chromakey Dreamcoat,” “Dayvan Cowboy,” “Satellite Anthem Icarus”

Despite their tendency towards tongue-in-cheek subversiveness, Boards of Canada are a pretty traditional electronic group. Their music is populated with polyrhythmic drum machines, melodic synths and enough studio manipulation to make Kraftwerk sound like Gregorian chant. So when the first warbly notes of “Chromakey Dreamcoat” came out of my speakers, I was a bit surprised. Boards of Canada were actually playing guitar. And to top it off, it actually sounded like a guitar (albeit with the wow and flutter of a broken tape deck – a Boards of Canada staple).

Was Boards of Canada too experimental to pick up the guitar before “The Campfire Headphase” or too firmly rooted in the sound that they had already established? It’s difficult to say, but either way, it might have been better if they hadn’t. Perhaps it’s their tendency to repeat a guitar part verbatim throughout most of a song, but it just sounds too.predictable. Only when they pipe it through delays, distortions and filters does it sound like Boards of Canada should, as in the first couple minutes of “Dayvan Cowboy.” The track opens up with a beautiful cyclical guitar part accompanied by faint synths and tambourine, only to turn into a watered-down fruit smoothie of strummed chords, melodramatic strings and cymbal crashes.

That’s not to say that the album is without merit: for anyone who has enjoyed “Music Has the Right to Children” or “Geogaddi,” there’s plenty here to satisfy your craving for heady textures and simple melodies. “Satellite Anthem Icarus” starts off with a lazily strummed acoustic guitar, only to fade into the bubbly synths and disembodied voices that Boards of Canada fans have grown to love. Elsewhere, “Oscar Sees Through the Red Eye” takes a page out of Aphex Twin’s book, with just enough adornments to prevent you from calling the music “ambient.” Unfortunately, for every moment of “traditional” Boards of Canada on “Campfire Headphase,” there’s a reason to make use of your CD player’s skip button.

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