There’s a point about halfway through “Split Your Infinities”, the eleventh track on the new Boards Of Canada record, where you start to wonder if you’ve lost your mind. After all, it’s certainly not unheard of for schizophrenia to lie dormant until adulthood, and it can be triggered. Once you reach the point where the shuffling, dubby beat and thick bass split open and melt into a heavily distorted speech sample that had been buried low in the mix, the right headphones will have you actively wondering if the voice is in fact a product of your own newly unhinged imagination.
So it goes with Tomorrow’s Harvest. The eight years elapsed between this release and their previous full-length, 2005’s The Campfire Headphase, found Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin, the reclusive Scottish brothers who make up Boards Of Canada, less concerned with dreamy nostalgia and more concerned with nightmarish delusion. At this very moment, there are thousands of their obsessive fans huddled together somewhere on the Internet, frantically scouring Tomorrow’s Harvest for hidden meanings and strange details- and successfully finding them. A Boards Of Canada release is one of the densest phenomena in modern music- attempting to find and catalog obscure references and archaic double entendres in, say, a Kelly Rowland release qualifies you for a tinfoil hat, but BoC fans are nothing short of scholarly in their approach to such matters. For example, their masterful 2002 release Geogaddi was riddled with hundreds of occult references, mathematical oddities and biblical allusions, lovingly and diligently identified and annotated by fans.
That said, you don’t have to be a forensic audiologist or CIA codebreaker to see what all the fuss is about- Tomorrow’s Harvest is cold, bleak and absolutely gorgeous. Interspersing ambient vignettes with longer, more developed pieces has long been a Boards Of Canada trademark, and Tomorrow’s Harvest takes this formula even further by arranging its 17 tracks into a palindromic structure built around the static-riddled, percussionless “Collapse”. Song titles alluding to death and subsequent rebirth abound, and the sound is heavily dramatic and full of vague, encroaching dread. Lead single “Reach For The Dead” is a slow-building, even slower-burning slab of anxiety-inducing arpeggios and calmer, almost anaesthetic synth pads which eventually build into a powerful climax. “New Seeds” starts dark and scary and continues down that suspenseful rabbit hole until a key change provides a glimmer of hope later in the song. “Come To Dust”, placed opposite “Reach For The Dead” in the palindrome, explores a similarly creepy chord structure and funeral-march pace, but alters the structure of the buildup to unfold more consistently rather than unleashing its fury all at once.
There are still touches of the soft-focus beauty that characterized The Campfire Headphase present, notably “Nothing Is Real”, a much-needed moment of warmth after a couple of the bleaker, more unsettling tracks, but even on the lighter tracks the bucolic aesthetic of Campfire has given way to a dystopian, almost sci-fi feel. “Palace Posy” seems to channel, just for a moment, the lighthearted playfulness that made their 1998 breakthrough Music Has The Right To Children resonate with anyone who ever had a childhood- that is, until you realize that “Palace Posy” is an anagram for “Apocalypse” and the dissonant shuffle is more dissociative than nostalgic. By the time you reach closing vignette “Semena Mertvykh”, which is Russian for “Seeds Of The Dead” and a decidedly terrifying deep, rumbling drone, it’s become apparent that the title of Tomorrow’s Harvest is not a reference to the start of pick-your-own season at the local apple orchard.
All told, Tomorrow’s Harvest is a dense, creepy project that reflects the eight years of painstaking production that went into it, and provided that the apocalyptic harvest referenced throughout isn’t too imminent, may take eight years to fully decode. It does, however, provide conclusive proof that Boards Of Canada didn’t become the standard-bearers for completely undanceable electronic music for no reason. These guys, as obtuse and enigmatic as they are, are absolute visionaries, and Tomorrow’s Harvest would serve as a fitting epitaph for the civilzation it appears to mourn.