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Boards Of Canada:: The Campfire Headphase (Album Review)

The last full-length release from Boards Of Canada (Geogaddi) came out three years ago and in the meantime there have been whispers upon rumours upon hearsay about when they would finally release a new album. I remember some talk about an album coming out during the leap year (2004), but as with most talk about the reclusive duo, it never came to fruition. Instead, they took their time and finally announced that their next album would be called The Campfire Headphase with very little dramatics other than the overzealous fans who found themselves flipping out at a release date finally set in stone (or at least some very soft chalk).

Soon after the announcement about their album was made, supposed leaks of the release hit filesharing systems with a vengence and opinions were soon posted near and far regarding whether they were the real deal or not. Most of the leaks were debunked as tracks by other artists or by overzealous unknown artists trying to make a name for themselves, but the underlying question about the music itself raised some interesting questions. There was a time (close to the release of (Music Has The Right To Children) where the music of Boards Of Canada was something that was unique and stood out from a good majority of artists creating similar-sounding efforts. Their mysterious, almost hermit-like reclusiveness only added to the equation, but there was no question that their music inhabited an almost singular world, and it gained them a huge, almost rabid following.

I hinted at it before, but when the supposed leaks of the new Boards Of Canada spread across the internet, the odd thing wasn’t how fast they were shot down as fakes, but how long it often took to actually debunk them as so. In only a couple of years, the group went from inhabiting a small, nearly self-created fraternity to being questioned whether their music was actually what people were saying it was. In the past 5 years especially, software and hardware advances have made it possible for just about anyone with enough time on their hands to mimic what the group was such a spearhead of back in the day.

I have to admit that I was really looking forward to The Campfire Headphase as much as a lot of people, but after listening to it time after time, it’s sometimes hard for me to believe that it’s even the same group that blew my mind with their earlier releases. As I explained above, it’s a matter of everyone else finally catching up with them, and in the case of their newest album, the duo doesn’t do enough to distinguish themselves from the hoards creating similar-sounding music. After opening with the noodly intro of “Into The Rainbow Vein,” the release launches into “The Chromakey Dreamcoat,” and despite a clever take on the popular musical as the title, the track just sort of noodles around with a repeated, slightly out-of-key guitar loop, a couple melodic synth washes, and some fairly standard programmed beats.

“Satellite Anthem Icarus” again shuffles along with a strummed acoustic guitar melody and several layers of fluttering analogue synths, but the result is fairly languid while “Dayvan Cowboy” literally sounds like a completely generic instrumental trip-hop track that could have poured out of the mixing table of just about any bedroom producer. It’s innocuous and clean, and just interesting enough that it will probably be used for backing in about 10 different corporate commercials if the duo feels like doing some licensing with The Campfire Headphase (and honestly, I wouldn’t blame them).

That’s not to say that the whole album is a wash, because there are moments where the magic of the group really shines through. “Peacock Tail” is a lovely, psychedelic ambient piece that’s on a par with anything off their great (In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country EP) while “Hey Saturday Sun” is a swirling folk trip-out that almost perfectly blends their old styles with touches of new (guitar and analogue synth melodies twirl around one another in slightly eerie ways). Another highlight is “Slow This Bird Down,” which clocks in at over six minutes and shuffles along with almost unnerving, panning washes of otherworldly synths and some sputtering beats. Sadly enough, though, The Campfire Headphase is a letdown from the duo who has at least seemingly always managed to stay slightly ahead of their contemporaries. I don’t fault them for trying some new things, but the results are mixed at best. Others may find it to be just what they were looking for, but I can’t help but feel let down.