Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 37)
Imagine a machine that allows you to relive one to seven minute bursts from your childhood. You strap yourself into a chair that looks a dentist chair, electrodes are strapped to various points on your skull, a sedative is given, and you fall asleep and voila! You have hyper vivid dreams of real events that occurred during the innocence of childhood Visions that even stayed with you when you awoke.
Now, what if it didn’t quite work right.
What if instead of a fantastical land of imagination and carefree adventure the dreams consisted of frightened insecurity and confusion. Images were fragmented and swept in and out of focus, faces appeared shimmery and shadows were everywhere. Is it a glitch in the machine or was this what childhood was actually like"
Boards of Canada’s essential debut Music Has the Right to Children
is about childhood. But it is not some nostalgic, rose tinted trip into a carefree wonderland. That is not what childhood is. Boards of Canada know that childhood is confusing, scary, and yes, sometimes wondrous. Music Has the Right to Children
remembers the pain of development and the terror of helplessness, the cruelty of classmates and the little joys in the ever opening world around you. It makes all of this into an engrossing and necessary IDM album that is still the most influential and accessible entry point into that genre.
In adulthood, the ability to rationalize events and assert our own meaning is taken for granted. The essential key of childhood is how difficult this is when our own identities are still faint outlines. Living subjugated to others and with only a fraction of understanding of the world and its mechanisms leaves us helpless to the whims of those that disturb the sanctity of our isolated existence. Only two musical meditations on childhood that I’m aware of acknowledge this as a dominant aspect of childhood, Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
and Boards of Canada’s Music Has the Right to Children
. “An Eagle in Your Mind” is already frightening enough on its own, with disembodied voices floating through the pinching drums, but when the percussion drops out for a detuned voice to say “I love you” it takes on a whole other universe of dread. “The Color of the Fire” prominently features a child repeating small variations on “I love you”. But the voice is slowed just slightly enough to become unsettling without being clearly definable by its alterations.
Even with its ambient synth washes and never invasive, but always knocking with a surprising force, drums, Music Has the Right to Children
is not an easy listening experience. The majority of the album is suffused with a creeping unease. The queasy swirl of “Rue the Whirl” and “Sixtyten” or the drawn out tension of “Pete Standing Alone” is made potent by the pure majesty of “Bocuma” or late album stunner “Open the Light”.
It struck me recently that at 21 I might be apart of the last generation that will understand the connection between this album’s decayed synths and the warped educational videos of elementary school. Worn down by years of rewinding and fast forwarding, the VHS tapes that composed a small percentage of my elementary school experience. Boards of Canada apply just the right filters to their synth patches to capture this exact sound, of being worn down by age and yet warm at the same time. On “Turquoise Hexagon Sun” individual electronic pianos tones are granted enough empty space in the mix to fully stretch out and corrode into silence. “Aquarius” clinks and clanks like Duplo blocks falling into place as a few tones resound like a half memory.
But what ties Music Has the Right to Children
together isn’t creeping tension or menace, it’s fascination. Embarking on a full listen feels exploratory, like a puzzle that never gives up it’s answers but begs you to keep attempting a solution. Every idea present on Music Has the Right to Children
is fully realized as a foundation. Its influences are obvious (Autchere, Aphex Twin) yet it sounds nothing that’s come before or since.
And then there’s “Roygbiv”, a song so perfect I don’t dare attempt another word trying to describe it.