Boards of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest 2LP
With long-awaited returns by David Bowie, My Bloody Valentine, the Knife, and Daft Punk in just the first few months, 2013 was already the year of the comeback when Boards of Canada resurfaced. Despite the fact it had been seven years since their last release, the Trans Canada Highway EP, and eight since their last full-length, the uneven Campfire Headphase, upon hearing Tomorrow's Harvest, it almost feels like the duo never went away. Unlike some of the work by their returning contemporaries, the album doesn't reveal any dramatic changes; this is undeniably the work of Boards of Canada, filled with the melancholy melodies and subtly edgy rhythms they've been pursuing since the late '90s. Not that Tomorrow's Harvest sounds dated; actually, there are hints throughout it that the duo paid attention to the goings-on in electronic music during their hiatus. The uneasy mood and tight arpeggios that dominate songs like "White Cyclosa" recall Oneohtrix Point Never as much as their own catalog, while the unsettled low end that wobbles on "Split Your Infinitives" nods to dubstep (of the Burial variety, not the kind that filled stadiums). Since that style's originators made music that was nearly as understated yet evocative as their own, it makes sense that Boards of Canada would borrow from them, but most of Tomorrow's Harvest underscores that the duo still exists in its own world. If The Campfire Headphase tried to move forward as well as recapture the feel of Music Has the Right to Children -- and ended up doing neither especially well -- then this album could be seen as streamlined successor to Geogaddi. These songs may even offer a more balanced journey than that album did as they move from gentle unease to simmering dread and back again; "Reach for the Dead," the track the brothers chose to introduce this phase of their music, does both. Attention-getting tracks like "Jacquard Causeway," which announces itself with an analog fanfare that harks back to '70s documentaries, and the strangely stately pop of "Palace Posy," which could be a hit single if Boards of Canada were into that kind of thing, are surrounded by vignettes that loom and lurk, like "Telepath"'s eerie muttering and "Collapse"'s far-off crashes. The most notable change on Tomorrow's Harvest may be that the past it evokes feels colder and less innocent than previous reveries; this time, looking back is as much about nostalgia as it is making sure the duo hasn't conjured up something creepy behind you on "Cold Earth" or "Nothing Is Real." This chilly refinement may make the album a more intellectual pleasure than Boards of Canada's earlier albums, but it's a masterfully crafted work that feels like a natural progression for them. While this might not sound particularly exciting on paper, the consistent excellence of Tomorrow's Harvest is as comforting as a collection of quietly menacing android fever dreams like these could possibly be.