Boards Of Canada - Tomorrow’s Harvest

This is a record that feels, at times, harsh, arid and almost confrontational.

Label: Warp

Rating: 8

You only need to look at the interest generated by Boards of Canada’s fascinating marketing campaign to see how much people care about the enigmatic Scottish duo. It made sense – an act who have always been mysterious and forward thinking, having one of most well sophisticated and well thought-out promotions in recent memory (well, maybe save a couple of French robots, at least). The vinyl sold on Record Store Day in New York started the hunt and then DJs on Radio 1 and NPR revealed further snippets of a code which led to the announcement of this, their new album, ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’. Yet it was the fact that Warp knew people would invest their time in this game that was most telling.

This is an act who haven’t released an album in ten years and basically never play live. Yet the uniqueness of what they do – and also, of course, the wait – means that ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’ is one of the most anticipated albums of 2013.

It makes listening to it objectively difficult, the wait, the desire to take it all in. But what’s clear is that this is different. Different to their landmark album ‘Music Has The Right To Your Children’ which felt lush and natural and warm, ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’ pushes the darker sounds of Geogaddi further. This is a record that feels, at times, harsh, arid and almost confrontational.

Yet they have retained their skill at creating unique textures and evocative soundscapes. More than most, Boards Of Canada create pictures with sounds. It’s somewhat ironic that their campaign asked you to put codes together, because this is an act who make records that are like piecing parts of a puzzle together and working out the answers for yourself. There are subliminal messages at play and each album is an intricate journey.

There’s still that humanity to their electronic music, and there are elements of the lushness, out of focus 70s effects that became their trademark, yet here they are creating a sound that’s more jarring, more eastern bloc, more industrial. As track titles like ‘Cold Earth’ and ‘Sick Times’ suggest, ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’ offers an hour-long journey into the heart of a dystopian future.

The album doesn’t exactly start as you’d expect – ‘Gemini’ begins with regal horns heralding an extravagant entrance. Will this be their surprising new sound? It’s a question instantly answered as an ominous distorted organ sound strikes. It’s a disorientating first track, synths come in and out of focus, the bass reverberates and shadowy thunder whispers in the background.

This darkness sets the scene for most of the tone of the album. Yet there are some brighter moments – ‘Palace Posy’ is the big pop hit and the most immediate thing on here. It kicks off with an earworm beat, with splashes of synths and giant footed drum beats. ‘Jacquard Causeway’ is another stand out. Foreboding synths suddenly sound more welcoming and sounds which had felt separate and rough before, start to interact. It’s a magical and hypnotising moment as a groove suddenly blossoms and you picture the beach at sunrise. ‘Cold Earth’s’ sci-fi cold synths over skittering beats is also a reminder of the unique sounds that they can create, while ‘Split Your Infinities’ is not only a great pun but a Kraftwerk-like hymn.

Yet the journey seemingly ends without answers. ‘Sundown’, with its slow glacial synths drones and washes of sound, is like what you imagine a sunset viewed from Mars is like, while ‘New Seeds’ is the sound of hope. It’s all pacey overlapping synths, the propulsive beats the sound of new life. It feels like a song soundtracking the fast forward growth of a plant growing (they’re good at naming songs these guys) and it’s bright in a way not many of these songs have been on the album. But ‘Semena Mertvykh’ ends the album on an ominous note, like travelling through space for days only to arrive on a dark, barren planet.

You can take what you like from these 17 tracks. What’s clear is that however dark this album feels it remains notable progress. Boards of Canada have created a fascinating vision, one that will reveal more and more gifts over time.