As much as I’d like to say the Beatles or the Stones or Radiohead or Wilco were the most pivotal musical moment for me, I think the truth is that hearing Boards of Canada for the first time might be even more pivotal. There was something about hitting play on a Boards of Canada album and getting lost on the downtempo beats, hazy synth lines, and dreamlike world Marcus Eoin and Michael Sandison created. They made the kind of electronic music that was there more so to make you think than make you move. I wasn’t much of a mover and my mind tended to think and overthink, so the first time I heard Music Has the Right To Children I knew I’d found my people.
The dystopian, sci-fi lean in the work, along with the melancholy, sleepy melodies that felt like mild anesthesia to my brain was just what I needed in my life. Boards of Canada built worlds on their albums. More so than their Warp Records counterparts, it seemed these Scottish brothers were more interested in wobbly detached indifference than the more standard electronic music of the time.
I didn’t discover Boards of Canada till 2008. A friend hipped me to them and I’ve never looked back. They opened my brain to bands like Oneohtrix Point Never, Huerco S, Rival Consoles, Entrancer(formerly Thug Entrancer) and Napolian to name a few. Granted, these aren’t all BOC soundalikes. But they each have an aesthetic to their work that feels more interested in soundscapes and mood then dance floor beats. I’m not much of a dancer(not at all), but I’ve got an overactive brain than can use distractions. An imagination that feeds on melody, melancholy, and dystopian narratives. Boards of Canada has my number for sure.
To try and come up with a favorite Boards album is nearly impossible. Every album I’m listening to in that particular moment is my favorite; be it Music Has The Right To Children, The Campfire Headphase, Tomorrow’s Harvest, or any number of their EPs(Twoism is a damn classic.) The album that perplexed me the most was 2002’s Geogaddi. It’s the darkest, densest, and moodiest album in Boards Of Canada’s discography. It was the one that felt like it needed to be unlocked in order to truly appreciate it. I feel like I have unlocked it since the first time I heard it in the late 2000s, and I can say it is definitely the band’s most epic work. My favorite? Well it is today, anyways.
I’m terrible at remembering Boards of Canada’s song titles. Some stick out, “Into The Rainbow Vein”, “Dayvan Cowboy”, “Everything You Do Is a Balloon” to name a few. But most of the time I’m too engaged in listening that a BoC album feels like an overall experience. From start to finish I’m locked in. Geogaddi is even more like that for me. There are some names I remember, like “Gyroscope”, “Sunshine Recorder”, “1969”, “The Devil In The Details”, and “Over The Horizon Radar”, but mostly Geogaddi is sixty-six minutes and six seconds of a labyrinthine musical journey.
According to BoC member Michael Sandison, Geogaddi is “a record for some sort of trial-by-fire, a claustrophobic, twisting journey that takes you into some pretty dark experiences before you reach the open air again.” The album is filled with distant melodies and low key rhythms that have the feeling of traveling through strange portals. I do picture a gyroscope, some geometric shape morphing into itself and forming into something else flawlessly. Or like falling into an old photo album filled with fading polaroids and being trapped in little moments of a life. Not your life, but one you’re not familiar with.
The songs work to reel you into the distorted, psychedelic nature of the record. From woozy opener “Ready Lets Go” with its PBS-like sound effects to the down tempo beat and wistful synth structures of “Music Is Math” to the darkly propulsive “Gyroscope”, within the first 10 minues the BoC brothers have us firmly locked into their world. It’s dark, dreamy, woozy, and at times a menacing place to be.
There are lighter moments, too. “Sunshine Recorder” has a free-floating quality to it, though still lingering in a kind of anesthetic gauziness. “Julie and Candy” sounds like a day at the beach, if the beach were empty and the only thing accompanying you were memories. “Dawn Chorus” slinks ever so slowly in a kind of synthetic light. “1969” is all slinky groove with an undercurrent of dread. The dark side of the summer of love, shone with an electro pulse.
“You Could Feel The Sky” is the kind of dystopian track that we need to lead us into the unknown finality of this record, while “Corsair” drones not quite sweetly, but with the benign indifference of rising from the darkness into an overcast world.
20 years on I find Geogaddi to be a very important record. Not just in the reocrd bin marked “Electronic”, but in the life bin in general. Dark, mysterious, hypnotic, and psychedelic, with such rich production. A densely-layered masterpiece that holds as much relevance today as it did 20 years ago.