Boards of Canada’s ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’ Is the ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ of Electronic Music
With Tomorrow’s Harvest, Boards of Canada create a type of hypertextual electronic tone poem to entropy.
There has always been something vaguely Pynchonian about Boards of Canada. Brilliant and groundbreaking in their preferred artistic forms, the both have obsessive attention to detail in exploring subjects as diverse as mathematics, paranoia, technology, tarot, astrology, psychedelics, conspiracy theory, cults, subliminal messaging, and so on. Unlike Pynchon, however, BoC can’t do slapstick on audio. It doesn’t play well in this form. But both the hermetic musical duo and author share something of a romantic attachment to a bucolic existence amidst the unrelenting crush of modernity.
With Tomorrow’s Harvest, Boards of Canada have created the Gravity’s Rainbow of electronic music. It is immense and cyclical in all its intense apocalyptic glory. Like the book, Tomorrow’s Harvest creates a luminous demarcation line of the before and after. It is an album full of foreboding, and proof that Boards of Canada’s skills haven’t atrophied since The Campfire Headphase (2005).
As youth convulsed in orgiastic glee over EDM this past year, BoC brought the long-gestating Tomorrow’s Harvest home. And not a moment too soon. Many years down the road, if not sooner, Tomorrow’s Harvest will be a singular sonic document; wholly removed from 2013's bevy of mainstream artists and producers launching themselves onto ephemeral EDM forms. There are craftsman and there are con men. So few of the former, and so many of the latter. We should revel in anything new from the dedicated tinkerers, even though they so rarely produce new creations.
Like Gravity’s Rainbow, Boards of Canada form Tomorrow’s Harvest into a cyclical, reflexive album. It is, as Michael Sandison noted in a recent Guardian interview, shaped like a palindrome. The opening track mirrors the closer. The second track, “Reach for the Dead” finds its opposite in second-to-last track “Come to Dust,” not simply on account of its sky high synth arpeggiations, but because the respective track titles invoke death. And “Collapse” is its own palindrome, but also the record’s axis—a bit like the “Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After” section (also post-apocalyptic) in David Mitchell’s great work of fiction, Cloud Atlas.
Pynchon has always been interested in entropy, and with Tomorrow’s Harvest, Marcus Eoin and Michael Sandison create a type of hypertextual electronic tone poem to entropy. A feature of thermodynamic theory, entropy can be explained as a measure of the degree of order and disorder in a closed system, as well as the loss of heat and matter leading toward equilibrium. In this way, Tomorrow’s Harvest—a title that could be a reference to the identically-named survivalist website—becomes politically and ecologically-charged. Boards of Canada seems to be asking, “How much longer can the Earth handle humanity’s industrial and technological collateral damage?” The Earth will be just fine. But it’s very possible that, in the near future, we won’t.
Sonically, the album is without equal right now. The only electronic music artist currently operating at a similar level of genius is Burial. New electronic music fans, suckling at the teat of promoters and festival headliners, will probably get a stinkface look of confusion if they happen to listen to Tomorrow’s Harvest. You know, the kind of face you get after showing a real science fiction film to someone who has only seen Transformers: Dark of the Moon 3D. “Where’s the bass drop?” someone asks. To which another ripostes, “There’s no bass drop, fuckwit.”
Tomorrow’s Harvest announces itself with “Gemini’s” PBS-style program intro music, before diving headlong into darkness, a motif that carries over into “Reach for the Dead.” It is an apocalyptic, mind-bender of a track, and maybe a strong candidate for BoC’s single greatest song. It might be the best track of 2013. No hyperbole. Although the album teaser video featuring closing track “Semena Mertvykh” might technically be the first music video, “Reach for the Dead” got a memorable cinematic analog with Neil Krug’s esoteric post-apocalyptic short film. The song is the sound of matter coming undone in a science fiction sort of way. Krug’s short conveys this atmosphere with its empty wasteland visuals.
Read DJ Pangburn’s full album review over at VICE’s Motherboard.