Review Summary: Haunting and cohesive; BoC have done it again.
Tomorrow’s Harvest is the newest album by the reclusive brothers behind the electronic duo Boards of Canada. As recently as this April (when FACT magazine had a fake album announcement as a cruel April Fool’s joke), the album was thought to exist only in the ethereal netherworld of delayed follow-ups, floating alongside Dr. Dre’s Detox and Tool’s fifth album. But then, against all odds, a mysterious BoC record surfaced on Record Store Day which lead into an intricate viral game and at the end, finally, a new album.
With Tomorrows Harvest, Boards of Canada have again proven themselves to be masters of electronic music. The album is perhaps the darkest one they’ve made, with a subtle eeriness that finds its way into every song. The brothers have always made albums in the fullest sense of the word, and Tomorrow’s Harvest is no different. It might even be their more cohesive record to date, demanding to be listened to all at once. The album is chilly, expansive, intricate, and above all cinematic. As the second song, Reach For The Dead, begins, you can imagine the helicopter shot of barren desert flying by, the gray remnants of civilization slowly rising out the shimmering heat. Cinematic too is the way some tracks seem to fade out prematurely, giving the album the feel of listening to a John Carpenter score over a ham radio. While parts of the album retain a signature Boards of Canada vibe, such the distorted vocal samples and short vignettes between the longer tracks, Tomorrow’s Harvest showcases a sound distinct from the rest of their discography. There’s less focus on huge, thudding beats, and more on skittering, impeccably programed drum-work.
The music here, in comparison to their earlier work, is cold, lacking the analogue warmth of songs like Telephasic Workshop, but while adding a complexity of sound. There are dozens of little noises and samples and beats worked into these songs, not in a way that’s overwhelming, but in a way that rewards close listening. As a result, Tomorrow’s Harvest, like many rewarding albums, can definitely pose a challenge to get into. The difficult Jacquard Causeway finds Boards of Canada at their most impenetrable and strange. Over a plodding beat, synths weave their way across one another, shifting, conflicting and brushing up against the edges of listenablity, only to be resolved in the end into something resembling a melody, backed by soaring strings. Semena Mertvykh’s eerie synths aren’t exactly feel-good music either, while Collapse is built upon crashing waves of static and interference.
That’s not say that there aren’t individual tracks to enjoy either. Beginning with what can only be described as a bouncy beat, Palace Posy is an excellent song, that later takes a despondent turn with the introduction of some ghostly synths in the background and a brilliantly chopped voice chanting “VFM”, creating the kind of beautifully dense sound heard over much of the album. Equally great is its follow-up, Spilt Your Infinites, a delicate track with a gorgeously constructed beat, featuring a truly disturbing vocal, which sounds like a broken android talking in another language, while simultaneously melting. Nothing Is Real and Come To Dust are two of the most accessible tracks on the album, with the former featuring another fantastic vocal sample that rides a thin line between soothing and satanic, and the latter track sounding like the closing credits music to a melancholy 80s thriller in all the right ways.
Taken as a whole, Tomorrow’s Harvest is a welcome step forward and a stunning affirmation of the brothers’ skill at producing atmospheric electronic music. On first listen it might be easy to think that Boards of Canada have lost their touch, but really taking the album in reveals it to be a triumph of mood and atmosphere, and a work that paints a deeply realized portrait of dread and melancholia, though not without a little hope and beauty.