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This is probably the simplest AMV I’ve ever posted about on this blog, but it’s one I keep coming back to over the years in spite of any of technical or conceptual “flaws” that may be apparent in its presentation or structure. I probably found it in the first place during a hunt for Boards of Canada AMVs, and I won’t deny that “ROYGBIV” is probably what got me hooked on this video in the first place. But at some point between now and whenever I first downloaded it — I remember that summer where I moved back in with my parents, setting up my computer on the floor of my old bedroom and downloading this and a handful of other AMVs through the dial-up connection they never upgraded from until years later — the extremely basic structure of this video morphed from being an aspect of it that I simply tolerated to being the essential charm of the video that I loved most about it. I have watched more AMVs like this than I can even remember; videos that use a single anime, play out slowly across a handful of scenes and use very minimal editing to weave together their source material. More often than not, it’s neither entertaining nor convincing, and I don’t have a rationale for what makes any video like this work when so many others don’t. Not even in the realm of my personal taste can I explain why I’m so fond of this but have been disappointed by so many other videos that are essentially working from the same approach. Of course, it’s my opinion that this music and this anime (which I’ve never watched aside from this video) compliment each other very fittingly, but I’m aware that’s a matter of personal taste and not an opinion that will be shared by every viewer.
What I do find very interesting is how ahead of its time this video has turned out to be. When lunasspecto edited this in 2006 — the first of a handful of AMVs — it was unlikely that they were inspired by the precise motivations that inspire so many AMV editors today. I’m talking about AMVs not particularly associated with the Org or conventions or contests or any of the outlets that I’m used to, but a particular scene that seems to be most active on Youtube and very focused on instrumental music and anime sources of a certain vintage. A track like “ROYGBIV” feels especially prescient to this world; a great deal of these kind of AMVs use vaporwave tracks or a particular kind of instrumental lo-fi hip-hop that both feel indebted to the hazy, melodic standard set by that track and other Boards of Canada tunes from almost 20 years ago.
I’m tempted to trace a line from a video like “One Day on the Island” to AMVs like this or this or this or this. For the most part, the editors of these AMVs let the action speak for itself, loosely syncing their cuts to the music and letting scenes play out without much interruption. The editors of these videos seem more concerned with simply capturing a tone rather than trying to build something completely new out of the materials at their fingertips, and that tone tends to be overwhelmingly mellow, chilled-out and reflective. The music is usually a melancholy hip-hop instrumental — though there are other branches of this school of editing that cater to other related sounds, just no rock n’ roll — and the anime on screen is often older or relatively obscure titles that convey a more timeless appeal and are softer on the eyes than most new anime. While most AMV editors with bigger followings opt to work with new or popular anime titles — a chicken and the egg problem, I guess — the editors in this corner of Youtube take a different approach, digging into older or sometimes rare anime titles for their sources in hopes of capturing a vibe that’s immediately relatable to their audience but different than anyone else’s works in the same scene. The audience for these videos is surprisingly huge, with many editors earning four or five-figure counts of subscribers.
There’s a certain me-too approach to a lot of this stuff that keeps me at an arm’s length from truly feeling it, or the sense that it’s less a movement or a community that’s interested in anime or editing than it is in using videos as a social currency for followers and views. This is a bigger topic than I’m ready to write about any further for now, but digging into it is what lead me back to lunasspecto’s debut, reminding me what I loved about it, its simplicity and the mysterious vibe I always got from it. It’s not my favorite Boards of Canada AMV, but while an AMV like Zerophite’s “Pale Moonlight” is exactly what I want and expect from a video like that, “One Day on the Island” just kind of does its own thing and works outside of my expectations or cravings. I’ve always loved it for what it was and I feel like it never really got its due and certainly never expected that it ever would. And it probably never will, but it’s funny to see how the world’s finally caught up with it and its laid-back charms.
Second half of the list began in the previous entry, perhaps more interesting for what’s not here than what is. Finishing this feels like a total exercise in self-mythologizing narcissism, a blatant attempt to paint myself in the best possible light by picking out a bunch of awesome records and subtly trying to imbue myself with the same inspirations and sensibilities of all the smart and talented people who made them. Don’t fall for my tricks!
The Breeders – Last Splash (1993)
The first “cool” album I ever owned (and if I recall, purchased in the same transaction as this). I had no context for this, didn’t know anything about the band or anything about Kim Deal that wasn’t in the liner notes. It was just the songs, alternative radio classics — bullied out of the canon by Pixies revisionist history — that drew me in, and for once in the monument to irredeemable awkwardness that was my childhood, I somehow tapped into something beautiful that didn’t turn out to be preposterously dorky in hindsight. Hard to channel any specific insights into what made this great, especially without romanticizing the 1990s, but this really is my “life was good” album that takes me back to riding bikes with friends, shooting water balloons at neighbors’ houses and just living life like I should have been at the time. Last Splash is still a bridge back to those feelings and I have no regrets crossing it again and again.
My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (1991)
The Internet is full of people who could talk your ear off about Loveless, its importance, how it was made, how much it cost and all the things it will do to your brain when you finally hear it. Most of them won’t steer you wrong. In a weird way, I’ve grown to feel a little ambivalent about the recognition this album enjoys now. I got a little too cozy with the feeling that it was something that no one else really knew about, and for the longest time in my circle of friends or my school or my town, that might have been true. But the cat’s out of the bag and, you know what? That definitely takes nothing away from this album and its ability to surprise and confound, pierce through the coating of embarrassing hyperbole surrounding it, and to sound impossibly bigger than whatever set of speakers it’s playing out of. Is this my favorite album? It might be.
DJ Sprinkles – Midtown 120 Blues (2008)
It would be easy to describe Midtown 120 Blues as “deep house” if that wasn’t a term that had been whitewashed and culturally redefined over the past few years by EDM DJs, pop artists, and Beatport users. Funny how the co-opting of niche sounds and movements just happens to be one of themes of this album, which I would immediately recommend to any fan of this kind of music if only it wasn’t, for all practical purposes, impossible to listen to and casually consume in the way we’ve all come to take for granted these days. Considering the defensive and often violent reaction of the typical Internet user when confronted with the well-meaning imperative to “check your privilege,” or in this case, to at least (re)consider one’s actual relationship to the roots of house music (and why it might actually not be a world that everyone can identify with), keeping this at arm’s length from a general audience might be for the best. My vague descriptions of this album are rather pointless given how Terre Thaemlitz lays the thesis statement out in very stark terms from the very beginning (in deliciously mordant and self-deprecating fashion), eviscerating the rosy, secondhand nostalgia for the early days of house music that we’ve bought into as cultural tourists, consuming the past in safe, neatly-packaged summaries. The dissonant, often dark edge of these tracks evokes a sense of loneliness, loss, solitude and alienation, subtly conveyed by lushly arranged layers of piano, flute and richly-satisfying bass that swirl together into truly hypnotic shapes. I’m definitely aware of the hypocrisy between implying that this is an album that I completely “get” while hinting at an inherent, un-spannable chasm that practically no one else in my sociological cohort should be capable of honestly crossing. Yeah, it’s a problem I’m still thinking about.
Boards of Canada – Music Has the Right to Children (1998)
While I’ve possibly spent more time obsessing over this album than any other, my urge to dig into it for deeper and deeper meanings is completely over, and I’m definitely done with the joyless exercise of explaining it to anyone who will listen. Describing the Music of Boards of Canada, especially on their breakthrough album for Warp that made them every bit the label figureheads that Aphex Twin or Autechre were, is to reduce their approach to music to a formula or a gimmick (nostalgia!). Perhaps no other musical artists besides Radiohead (or Death Grips, so it seems) has been so wholly absorbed into the Internet indie-bro hype culture and had all the magic and wonder drained out of what they do and rendered into memes like the brothers Sandison have. The disgust I’m expressing here has little to do with them as artists and everything to do with music fandom in the age of social media, and is taking the place of any actual discussion about this album mostly because I’ve already talked about it here and don’t have anything left to say.
Broadcast – The Noise Made by People (2000)
Broadcast was a favorite band of many Stereolab fans I used to chat with online, and in years surrounding the release of this album, they were shortsightedly pegged as Stereolab clones. Besides sounding nothing alike, it’s definitely possible (and probably widely agreed) that the songs on The Noise Made by People are simply better than any other collection of Stereolab’s, or any of the other retro future-obsessed groups of the late 90s/early 2000s (Mellow, Komeda, even Air). 1960s electronic music may have been the inspiration for their use of analog synthesizers, but in the years since the album was released, The Noise Made by People has only come to sound more and more contemporary, a vision of the future rather than an imitation of a plastic past. There’s a heart to this music that goes unrecognized, a sense of honesty and vulnerability that took a long time for me to notice and embrace. Or maybe spending a long time with this CD just sowed the seeds of a special relationship that makes me extra-willing to romanticize about? I love that my copy was released on Tommy Boy, home of Naughty by Nature, House of Pain, and Coolio.
The Orb – Orbus Terrarum (1995)
I’d had either of The Orb’s first two albums penciled in here at one point and couldn’t bring myself to pick one over the other. So choosing Orbus Terrarum, the first album from The Orb that I ever heard/owned, is definitely a compromise but also a valid pick in its own right. It’s a brighter, clearer-sounding album than both Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld and U.F.Orb, with a wider dynamic range that I’ve always preferred to those albums, brilliant as they are. Also, Orbus Terrarum was definitely my gateway album into electronic music, and considering how weird and twisted it still sounds after all the years, that was probably like learning to swim by being tossed straight into the deep end of the pool. The first half hour of the album (“Valley,” “Plateau,” “Oxbow Lakes”) is deceptively warm and inviting, setting up my expectations for what I thought ambient music should sound like: tracks that evoked a “spacey” feeling, slowly drifting past with whimsical samples bubbling in and out of the mix, the sense of slowly floating through a palpable space on top of a deep, dubby bassline. But as the wide open spaces alluded to by the geographically-themed track titles start to feel more claustrophobic, the psychedelic twists and turns will still shake you even when you know they’re coming. Thankfully, the whole album still retains The Orb’s sense of humor, which shines through even without the aid of psychedelics, good thing considering how I probably still had my D.A.R.E. t-shirt at the time and wasn’t wearing it ironically.
Gas – Pop (2000)
Pop can lull listeners into a trance like waves crashing on an ocean shore or a breeze rustling thousands of leaves in a dense forest. It’s undeniably relaxing, but sounds less like a human composition than a huge force of nature. It’s reassuringly repetitious, but unpredictably so, unfolding at its own pace, seemingly unbound from the latticework that holds together even the most creative and effective ambient music. It’s a sound that seems to wash over you, surround and suspend you in its own world, even before the beat gradually emerges into the mix and adds an urgent but reassuring pulse. Provided you’re listening on any halfway-decent stereo or pair of headphones, giving into the music can be an immersive experience. Wolfgang Voigt’s recordings as Gas go back a few albums before Pop, his final solo release under the name, and following the slow evolution of his sound from its low-fi, hazy beginnings to the crystal-clear conclusion of his vision is a fascinating and satisfying trip to take. But really, I’d recommend closing your Wikipedia and Discogs tabs and just soaking it up without too much thought.
Michael Jackson – Thriller (1982)
Nothing else even comes close to the nostalgia rush I get whenever I hear this album, but despite the comfort and familiarity I experience whenever I listen to it, Thriller still manages to amaze and surprise me, as it does in every chapter of my life. The comfort of this nostalgia is secondary to the awe inspired by actually running your hands over it, appreciating its craftsmanship, wondering how something could be appreciated in its own time for being so soulful, joyful, and electric and still continue to feel so vital and essential for so long. Plenty of music talks about bringing people together, but as the appeal of Thriller spans generations, race, borders, I wonder if any of the art in our lives has actually done that quite as much as the nine songs here. This is music that makes me happy to be alive and genuinely thankful for the genius that brought it into the world.
Tortoise – TNT (1998)
Another album that changed everything I thought about music, how it “should” work and what it could do. Tortoise’s use of familiar instruments (guitar, bass, drums) with lesser-used sounds (mallet instruments, synthesizers, sampling), on the surface, doesn’t look like a particularly daring proposition today, nor would their blending together of sounds associated with different genres (dub reggae, jazz, film soundtracks) seem very risky in a world where musicians and listeners routinely dabble in all different kinds of music. But compared to any of the tepid post-rock that dribbled out into the ether over the next decade, it overflows with vibrant and deep grooves, playing with sound on a lush, cinematic scale. The product of equal parts improvisation and studio trickery, the atmosphere on TNT — a title I always assumed was an ironic nod to AC/DC, quite possibly Tortoise’s polar opposite as a band — is some of my favorite on any record, digging out unexplored spaces that I never imagined existed and have found few parallels to since.
Primal Scream – XTRMNTR (2000)
The second half of this list was half-done when I published the first part more than three weeks ago. But sitting down to wrap it up was a challenge. I’ve been…busy, and distracted by concerns that maybe, just maybe, putting the time and energy that I do into things like this is a distraction from both personal responsibilities and more important things in this world that can’t be ignored. WordPress tells me that this blog turned seven years old back in December, so for the entire time that I’ve posting on here, I’ve enjoyed the privilege of living as a U.S. citizen with a leader who valued knowledge, pursued wisdom, believed in the worth of public service and implored us to do the same, encouraged us in the struggle to respect and understand one another and to come together for a greater good that would affect universal change for the better. That this man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit would be succeeded by a petulant con artist who transparently appealed to the darkest forces in our hearts and manipulated society’s worst fears is the greatest humiliation any of our generations have endured. That modern life has grown abstract enough for millions to willingly pull the level for an insidious opportunist, an unapologetic adulterer, rapist, and pathological liar who peddles debunked myths and conspiracy theories as facts, is still too much to fully comprehend. The startling futility of questioning his qualifications, calling out his lies, trying to expose his rhetorical tactics or explain what’s really at stake to his supporters feels like trying to run through a brick wall. The experience has shown me how brittle my optimism and mental resourcefulness becomes in a moment of crisis, and how that moment of crisis can arrive in a form that no one in my life has any idea how to deal with. I guess this is the moment where I look in the mirror, realize I’m an adult, and accept the fact that there’s no more secret wisdom waiting to be passed down to me and no further cues to follow. Basically, I have reached the end of my life, insofar as nothing in this world will change me from this point forward besides my own choices. Those choices, including how I choose to cope with troubles big and small, will define who I am (a childish realization if there ever was one, but better late than never, I guess). For the past two and a half months, I’ve chosen to steep myself in frustration and pent-up disdain, which brings me to XTRMNTR.
I turn to music as a conduit for a lot of different emotions that I feel or want to vicariously experience. This surely includes a lot of “negative” emotions, but for better or worse, anger has never really been one of them. XTRMNTR is an obvious exception to this, which is probably why I’m compelled to play it at ridiculously loud volumes (these days, confining it almost solely to listening in the car). While its release predated the Iraq War by a couple of years, even coming out a whole year before George W. Bush even took office — not to stuff this quintessentially British band into a squarely American context — the restless, pissed-off fury of the album felt like a direct response to the right-wing hypocrisy, overt propaganda and rabid militarism that was thick in the air. Unfortunately, it feels just as relevant today as it did back then. It probably doesn’t speak well for my maturity or composure, but a song like “Pills” (usually regarded by fans as the low point on the album, which may be true but not for the reasons they’d believe) sums up the complete scope of my feelings towards Trump, his petty, stupid Tweeting, his petty vendettas against any institution or individual who calls him out on his perpetual bullshit, his extreme solutions to imaginary problems and the phony explanations he’s allowed to give for any of it. And whether it’s an indictment against actual neo-nazis, globalization and neoliberalism, or just bullshit punk rock, “Swastika Eyes” feels like the soundtrack to the laser-focused response that’s in order against the normalization of racism and bigotry in our country and all across the western world. “Accelerator” is probably the loudest rock song I’ve ever heard, and whether or not it’s healthy for me, it’s invigorating to turn it up and let myself just simmer in. Describing the entire album as a one-dimensional expression of rage would be a mistake. “MBV Arkestra (If They Move Kill ‘Em)” continued Kevin Shields’ run of scarce but beautiful masterpieces in between Loveless and My Bloody Valentine’s return in 2013, and is one of the biggest-sounding slabs of kaleidoscopic psychedelia I’ve ever heard. “Keep Your Dreams” is a beautiful piece of future blues that feels cleansing, even redemptive, on its own or as the melancholy centerpiece of the album. XTRMNTR is, like a lot of albums that I’ve already mentioned, a work where the supposed weak links never struck me as such. Being a political album (despite what Bobby Gillespie may say), there’s fair share of sloganeering and not a lot of nuance in the messaging. And I guess something about that has always connected with me, maybe because I’ve never had the conviction to say what I truly believe or because I struggle to reduce the world to simplified, black and white terms, so letting this album voice my frustration is a tremendous release. If I’ve written more about it than any other album on my list, that’s because it’s just resonating with me very hard at the moment, a moment that I’m still hoping will pass sooner than later, one we’ll eventually be able to look back on from from a wiser, kinder place than we are right now.
When I wrote about Daft Punk, I envisioned that entry as the first of a series of similar posts about all my favorite bands and musical artists. I was hoping to write other pieces like it about other artists I’ve been into for some time. Hopefully, my experiences with them would give me some things to write about and my enthusiasm would make it interesting. If I was going to do this, I knew that I’d be writing about Boards of Canada, and probably sooner than later. I’ve tried writing this post a few times over the past few weeks but it’s been very difficult for me to organize my ideas. Starting at the beginning has been frustrating so I’ll go backwards instead.
Tomorrow’s Harvest, the latest release from Boards of Canada, is a boring album. That’s a contentious statement if there ever was one, but it’s the simplest description of my feelings that I can come up with and a point that I wanted to make very clearly and get out of the way. The first three tracks are very good. The rest of it sounds very nice but feels meaningless. Boards of Canada’s fans have recorded several compliations of BoC-inspired music over the years as a tribute to their favorite “Gods” of electronic music. Tomorrow’s Harvest fits in nicely with those collections, feeling very inspired by Boards of Canada and all the sounds and effects and moods that their music has come to characterize over the years. It does not, however, break new ground or provide any kind of experience remotely akin to listening to their music made in the late 90s or in the early 00s. Many moments feel like imitations of earlier tracks. Had this album been made by another artist or group, it would either have been criticized as insultingly derivative or praised as a clever parody of the “Boards of Canada sound.” I realize that this is a very subjective take on the album, nothing but my opinion, which is all coming straight from the gut and which I still don’t completely understand. But I also believe that the time that I’ve spend with their music and the way that I’ve listened to it has given me a license to make such statements and that they’re worth more of your time than any of the seemingly-universal acclaim that this album has received from the press or from the duo’s most devoted fans.
And, recognizing how deeply so many people tend to feel about this music, I also recognize that I’m hardly the only listener out there who has what they know to be an “expert” opinion about it. Spend a few minutes on Twoism, We Are the Music Makers, or even the devoted Boards of Canada Subreddit, and you’ll encounter a level of emotional investment that’s almost unheard of in music outside of the realms of teen-pop. Surely there are always metal or prog-rock bands out there, making albums full of references to history and mythology and art and poetry, arranging it all together into puzzles for fans to unpack and discover and have deep conversations over. And there’s Radiohead, who wield a staggering amount of control over their fans’ listening habits and musical priorities. They selectively exposed their fans to one divergent realm of music after another, gently guiding at least hundred thousand listeners or so through the entire history of modern music, slowly culturing their fans into a new kind of listener more suitable for the post-Internet band they so deeply wanted to become.
Boards of Canada, on the other hand, have inspired nothing short of a cult following, one bursting at the seams these days, with very little direct communication or activity whatsoever. Having established a very recognizable sound that’s all their own, particularly on two “classic” albums and EPs, bros Sandison accidentally spawned a virtual world that was no longer limited to the confines of the music itself. “Boards of Canada” became synonymous not just with a very particular feeling of melancholy, but with he idea of “nostalgia” (childhood nostalgia, in particular), which electronic music had rarely concerned itself with before. Listeners who discovered them before the mid 00s encountered a very strange music. Reactions were mixed but always truly personal. But over time, discussion of “nostalgia” slowly spread like a meme, and is now held up as the “truth” behind their music. It now overwhelms the experience of listening to Boards of Canada, defines it, confines it, and reduces the very creative duo to a brand: blurry Polaroids, animated production logos from early 80s television, warbled-sounds pulled from aged tape… first the audience bought into this simplified idea of what Boards of Canada meant. Did the duo themselves begin to see themselves in the same way? Considering how Tomorrow’s Harvest feels like a shorthand transcript of their previous works, I have to wonder.
This is not to say that the new album doesn’t have a character of its own. It does feel creepy. And grim. And as desolate as the ghost town imagery that informs our expectations about the whole shebang. Much like a certain spector of death now hangs over the music of Coil, this is one of those albums that invites you to stare into the void and take stock of your mortality. This won’t stop people from adding it to their “chill out” playlists alongside Thievery Corporation and Zero 7. There are interesting themes here, but it plays out as if created by committee. The trademark syth pads, samples of voices counting, station ID jingles… the album feels like a Tumblr site devoted to collecting snatches of media that resemble the Boards of Canada™ aesthetic. What would have been short interludes on previous albums now constitute lengthy tracks, with no coherent structure holding them together. It’s a joyless album that makes me physically sick and is a chore to sit through. I hate it and I can’t help but shake the feeling that it’s a product something in the artist-listener relationship here that somehow got warped and twisted ass-backwards.
I don’t like the new album. “Reach for the Dead” is the best moment on it and the only truly affecting piece of music on it, much like “Dayvan Cowboy” was the saving grace of The Campfire Headphase in 2005. These aren’t simply two good-enough tracks that fans like because they were released as singles, but two of the most affecting pieces that Boards of Canada have ever recorded. I feel this is significant because it proves that the inspiration that made their earlier records so vital never left them, but rather, was buried by some other concern that else that rendered both The Campfire Headphase and Tomorrow’s Harvest as significantly weaker albums than their predecessors. These most recent efforts, in particular, were received by a sizable fanbase and critiqued by an Internet press industry that simply weren’t there to bother them during their time on Skam and their early releases on Warp. Am I trying to blame the fact that their music isn’t as enjoyable as it used to be squarely on the Internet? I don’t know. And what good would that do even if I was?
Geogaddi came out in February of 2002. I remember this very clearly, where I was living and what I was doing and how obsessed I was with their music at the time, actually looking up information about them online to see if they were releasing any new music any time soon, and then seeing that their new album had come out only days before. That sort of thing almost never happens anymore, so try to appreciate it if you ever get the chance. I remember going with my friend to the store to buy it. Unfortunately, that store was probably Best Buy but at least I can say that it was there for me when I needed it at least once. I don’t remember my first impressions of it or anything like that. I just remember it being with me for the rest of that spring and summer, gradually becoming a part of my life at the time along with the rest of everything else I’d collected from Boards of Canada up to that point. The album definitely felt more insistent than the rest of their music, or at least more assertive in delivering its musical and thematic motifs.
One review of Geogaddi, in a rather sheepish/apologetic recommendation of the album, made an interesting point about the reputation that was surrounding the duo and the nature of their work. “This is BoC in hi-fi, and not just in sound-quality either. All of their traditional cliches have been turned up to 10. It’s as if the earlier records were petri dishes to divine the most effective ways to cause mass-swooning among the faithful.” It’s never “expensive” sounding but is certainly the work of musicians with a desire to make a better-sounding long-player experience, and with more attention and probably resources this time around to make it happen. This doesn’t compromise or distract their vision, if anything it brings certainly elements of their sound to the forefront of the listener’s attention, perhaps stripping the music of some of its ambiguity but creating a clearer picture of their vision than ever before. They had already built of a musical language that was very much all their own, but the way it was all brought into crisp focus here, coupled with great track sequencing and the feeling of connected-ness between the tracks (which was missing from later albums) makes Geogaddi a very interesting listening experience.
I heard the In a Beautiful Place in the Country EP during the summer of 2001. I bought it and had the CD in my car during most of that summer, so my memories of it are usually associated with driving in my car on the way to my summer job (in the dead of night, stocking shelves at a big-box retail store starting at 4:00 am) or sitting in the car after work in the afternoon. My air conditioner was broken and I had black leather seats. I’d open the driver’s side door and take a breath before getting inside. It felt like an oven, and in less than a minute I’d always begin sweating profusely. I’d put this CD on and to this day, every time I hear the beginning of
“Kid For Today,” the skin on my arms and legs begins to tingle, as if all the pores are slowly opening up in the beginning stages of whatever signal cascade begins the perspiration cycle. And I feel very alone. And tired. But also very comfortable. The songs here are very comforting (quite the opposite feeling of Geogaddi, as a whole), which probably has a lot to do with the lasting appeal of this EP, which seem to be some of Boards of Canada’s most-recognized songs, if Internet message boards are anything to go by. I imagine that this release, which actually came out in late 2000, is their most immediately-accessible work, and probably came out at a time when more people than ever were getting into their music. This was also the height of Napster’s popularity. I don’t remember what lead me to download their music in the first place, but I first heard Boards of Canada after downloading some mp3s, more or less at random, off of the network. I don’t see how anyone at the time could have been interested in this kind of music, downloaded this EP, and not fallen in love. That’s the sort of bullshit generalization that I usually hate to read but it’s one that I believe enough to go ahead and make myself.
Sometime in late 2000, I downloaded some tracks off Napster from Music Has the Right to Children, and a few mp3s taken from the earlier EPs. Those EPs are all great. I could talk about them a lot, although I feel like I should spend most of the rest of this most talking about the album, instead. My memories of Hi Scores and Twoism, which I often confused with each other until I was able to get them on CD, whenever it was that they were each re-issued. “Hi Scores,” “Nlogax,” “Seeya Later,” “Everything You Do is a Balloon,” “Sixtyniner,” “Oirectine“… well, now I’ve just linked to most of the music on them, but listening to all of those (and quite often, on a loop for a few hours, late at night), I remember feeling aware of myself in a way that I’d never quite experienced before. I honestly do feel like I never quite grew into my self in the way that you’re supposed to during puberty or early adolescence. I do feel like the autopilot setting that everyone’s on during childhood was never switched off for me until I was out of high school, and that I was never truly living in the moment with a real understanding of who I was, what I wanted in life, or the understanding that I was truly responsible for making my own decisions, until some time during that year. I don’t know how to talk about this without sounding like I’m trying to get sympathy, make excuses for the person I was at that time or before then, or looking at my life as if it were a story I’m writing, and trying to assign interesting psychological qualities to the main character. Anyway, I’m not saying that these tracks made me experience a kind of awakening. But they were there when it was happening to me, so I’ve always had very special feelings about them. And that personal attachment is probably why I get so irritated by the legions of Boards of Canada fanboys that slowly came into existence over time, whose public displays of affection for the group often sound like Evangelical testimonials, at least in terms of the “personal relationship” that they seem to have with the music. I liked the idea that this music was “mine,” which is laughable to admit in any case today, but my point is that I felt this attachment in a personal way, and the emergence of a large community of
people dudes excited about it in ways that looked very silly from the outside, made me wonder if I was nothing but just another dork gushing — privately, publicly, what’s the difference? — about how much it all meant to me.
Along with those tracks, I’d downloaded “Roygbiv,” “Turquoise Hexagon Sun” and “Happy Cycling” (maybe my favorite Boards of Canada track, and one that closes the album so perfectly that it’s hard to believe it was included on the Matador release as a US-only bonus track) from Music Has the Right to Children. I bought that album in late 2000, about 2 weeks before Christmas, and listened to it every day for the rest of that Christmas break. I remember driving to a Christmas party in another state — I shouldn’t have RSVP’ed but then again, they shouldn’t have invited me to go in the first place — and playing through the album twice. I don’t know if I’d ever played music in my car as loud as I was blasting “Sixtyten” that night. More than anything, I remember listening to this album on headphones while laying in bed, usually while thinking about a lot of things that were bothering me at the time. Maybe that should make me feel sad today, every time I listen to it, but it doesn’t. It didn’t inspire me or make me feel like I could “escape to another world” while listening to it or anything quite so precious as that. But it did make me feel like I was entering a new phase in my life, one that would hopefully give me some space to relax (not in a strict physical sense) and some opportunities to have some fun and rewarding experiences. There’s no way to talk about any of that stuff without going off on some boring tangents. I’ll just say that the album sounded like the perfect synthesis of so much of the music that I was enjoying at the time, but also something new and completely different. I didn’t come into it with great expectations or having experienced any of the myth or hype around it that would slowly grow over time, so I got to know it very slowly and by the time it was famous, getting reissued, getting a perfect score from Pitchfork, etc., I already felt like it was mine in a way that no other music had ever been before. That’s a feeling that’s worth savoring for a short time, but like I’d slowly learn over time, don’t attach any feelings of identity or accomplishment to stuff that you like, because its “importance” or “meaning” is beyond your control. I still love Music Has the Right to Children, even as it’s become a go-to “classic” electronic album that people recommend to curious listeners, even as its reputation has dwindled over time thanks to chin-stoking Internet geek hyperbole, even as I’ve even seen a backlash against it from people who are just tired of it. I don’t know what I’ll think of it a year from now or ten years from now, but I like to imagine myself listening to it for a long time and seeing what kind of new associations I can make with it.
I picked up a used copy of Music Has the Right to Children at a store in 1999. I’d seen an advertisement for it in a magazine and the art was really interesting, plus it was on Matador, so I thought I should try it out. I started to take it to the counter but put it back in the racks and bought LP5 by Autechre instead. I often wonder how my feelings about this music would have changed if I’d started listening to it back then.
Maybe that’s all I have to say about Boards of Canada. I could say more, but it’s a dilemma between wanting to talk about one of my favorite groups, and understanding that the attachment I have towards this music is based on feelings that I’d probably be better off not trying to articulate. There’s a lot of conflicting feelings in this music, and it’s interesting to talk about, but the experience of just getting lost in it is so much more rewarding and worth preserving. This is music that deserves a cold listen, free from promises about exactly what it’s going to deliver. Maybe that’s true of most music? Once you’re fed the press release, it can be hard to have an honest response that’s not tainted by other people’s ideas. Maybe that’s why I’ll be perfectly happy if no one ever reads this. I wanted to get this all out, maybe so I could stop thinking about doing it in one shape or form in the future, but I don’t want anyone to go into this music with expectations or come away from it with anything other than an interpretation that’s come straight out of their own imagination and nowhere else.
In the summer of 2002 I stumbled upon animemusicvideos.org and discovered AMVs for the first time. I couldn’t believe that so many people were making these things. Why hadn’t anyone told me sooner? I got very excited about the idea of making and sharing them. Unfortunately I was very poor and wouldn’t be able to afford a proper computer to actually make some on for many years. I did go on to make some, although it’s been a real waste of my time so far, to be honest.
This AMV was one of the first that I remember watching. It was edited by a guy going by the name of Zerophite. We chatted online for a brief time while I was living at school that summer. I was very excited to find someone else online that loved anime and electronic music. Very soon afterward, at least according to his profile on the Org, he left the AMV community never to return. By the time I entered it, he was long gone and I found that there really weren’t any other editors in the “scene” who shared the same interests or even enjoyed Warp-esque electronic music. I’m still looking for someone, anyone else online, who likes anime, AMVs, and the same music that I listen to. Oh well.
“Olson” was a track from Music Has the Right to Children, an album by Boards of Canada, whom I’ll be posting more about very soon.