If Boards of Canada were a foodstuff, they’d have to be sushi prepared by ET: all the right ingredients – even the authentic whiff of kelp, fresh off the beach at Gairloch – but indubitably alien, in a feelgood, glowy-fingertip, non-X-files kind of way.
Geogaddi – the feast – is a ten-course meal interspersed with twelve sonic sorbets and concluding with a very flat after-dinner joke (see below). In a sense, those in-between courses represent the essence of Marcus Eoin and Michael Sandison’s handiwork: to those of us chained to a 56k modem shuffling MP3’s along a geriatric BT connection at 4 Kb/s on a good day, these little half-minute gems have always been worth the wait. In Geogaddi, they contextualise the more substantial tracks in a properly palate-cleansing kind of way, but their generic tiny strangenesses command the kind of respect reserved only for the Nicholas Hillyards of the miniaturists conclave.
The Boards debut album – Music Has the Right to Children – precedes this one by four long years, during which time the distinctive mix of beats and samples that sealed their reputation and launched a thousand clones has evolved from the standout ‘Aquarius’ (it’s all there) into a much denser production palette, but with no less sanguine an overall mood. They’re not tormented souls, the Boards of Canada – just mildly disturbed. It’s as if they’ve come across a cache of random acoustic samples of EM radiation scooped out of the Heaviside Layer by our crop-circling alien pranksters over the last five decades and woven them into a decorative foreground of digitised dance beats. There’s an honest aspiration to sunniness – ‘1969 (in the sunshine)’ is nothing less than a paean to a half-remembered-half-imagined golden age of open-mouthed childish laughter – but somehow this has become a sun reduced to odd wavelengths, then redefined in long chains of 0’s and 1’s – summer as barcode.
If there’s a centre of gravity in this otherwise gravitationally unreliable discworld, it has to be ‘The Beach at Redpoint’ – this fine track represents a fulcrum, of sorts – the music without the jokes, extended, thoughtful, lyrical, playful, elegiac – but still haunted.
Elsewhere, the ghosts are more apparent: there’s a spooky/funny deconstruction of a New Age self-realisation tape in ‘The Devil in the Details’ (“…when necessary, you can re-programme yourself…”), and a passing nod at the mournful relationship between curlews and drowned mariners in ‘The Smallest Weird Number’. Number itself, incidentally, appears to be a Boards obsession – and the act of counting (frequently by children, but once – in ‘a is to b as b is to c’ – by a scarily manic kids-TV type) becomes a cryptic leitmotif. (There’s even some wacko with a crypto-Illuminati site dedicated to proving the Boards link with the Branch Davidians through numerological analysis of their canon. Peace and love, man.)
Geogaddi is truly a feast – as varied, tasty, entertaining, and nourishing as you could wish for. (And if that’s not the glorious Leslie Nielsen commenting on submarine vulcanicity in some parallel existence as a Film Board of Canada voice-over artist in the background to the fabulously strange ‘Dandelion’ – “when lava flows underwater it behaves differently” – then I’m a Dutchman.) But why o why, after the lovely ‘Corsair’ – the penultimate track – has sailed away, rocking on a sea of gently surging sine-waves, and disappearing over a silent and silencing horizon, did they have to succumb to the bathos of making the final track – ‘Magic Window’ a 1’46” of literal silence? It’s a strangely false, even pretentious note – a so-what lol (not) – to conclude with. (And a gesture not without its perils, as the Wombles of Wimbledon composer, Mike Batt, discovered, bizarrely, when he created a One Minute Silence of his own.) But hey. A fnord’s a fnord’s a fnord….