Beyond the static-tined avalanche of white noise and synthesiser synaesthesia, Boards of Canada’s recent Tomorrow’s Harvest L.P. is a surprisingly comprehensive journey towards – and eventually away from – collapse. But what stands so intriguing in this breakdown? What leads the release of this record to captivate so easily with giddy addiction? And just what exactly is being portrayed across the ice-pines and bark-bergs of this somehow begotten, faintly belated landscape?
First, one has to be careful in attempting to view the effort as a concept album in the strictest terms. Despite its clear thematic loyalties (mostly to secret broadcast, ghostly premonitions and narcissistic evolution), there is no great or detailed tale to be found under the layers of softly structured tone poetry. But then that seems to be entirely the point, mirroring the alienation of the society that spawned it.
Yet, considering the aforementioned lack of crafted narrative, there remains within a rich tapestry of a time future and past – an almost cautionary, but oddly comforting, yarn on our path through a wholly undeterred universe. Most prudent to remember is the album’s creators’ own admission of Tomorrow’s Harvest’s inherent palindrome. This is creepily, and somewhat deceptively, evident from a first, oblivious listen.
The tracks all seem to claw, stabbing in the dark somewhere, into the peak or trough (depending on one’s perspective) of the record’s subtle centrepiece in Collapse. After this shrouded, climactic event, everything spirals off in a perplexed radiation of equal reaction. When the dust settles, we’re left with a thin and almost disturbing nostalgia. Attempting to regroup after something still elusive, all that remains is the dull mind-pang of memories long melted.
This even reflects in the project’s sublime artwork. The cover, showing the distant visage of civilisation faded behind barren lands of warmer colour, hides within it a deeper expression of the music’s dichotomy. The image could be some intangible waypoint ahead on the horizon. Just as equally, it could easily convey a long-left-behind spectre of former glories. Either way we stand in the rich, sun-baked centre, looking to some diminished possibility of past or future.
Point is, of course, disconnection – disconnection from something important. Even in the midst of adrenaline fuelled, Sick Times leading to Collapse are the conspiratorial seeds of thawing dissention. And is this not essentially the feeling of our times? Were the sixties not just some vivid, explosive spike in the rolling perpetual pattern of perception? We look back on it now with clouded eyes, and forward towards the next great human conquest – as veiled and outlying as it may seem.
The symbolism of the number station even further supports this, acting as a figurehead to that exclusive secrecy that seems forever bound beyond your viewpoint. Number stations, for those uninitiated, are sinister broadcasts in the shadows of shortwave radio. Widely regarded to be intended for international spies to decode in the field (utilising encoded strings of numbers read in detached voices), their emergence has since seen a backlash of obsessive spotlight from radio enthusiasts. This eventually led to the fascinating, if at times nightmarish, Conet Project – something Boards of Canada have expressed an affinity for, and have clearly taken influence from throughout their career.
These stations each typically announce their message with a musical call-sign, exactly like Tomorrow’s Harvest. Notable examples of genuine number station call-signs, such as The Lincolnshire Poacher or The Swedish Rhapsody, are clear springboards for the Scottish duo. Gemini, the record’s opening track, therefore serves a purpose with its aural examinations of the listener’s attention and patience (aside from its title’s obvious symbolic resonance to the subject). A message follows but, just like with real life stations, it’s deliberately concocted to create that same feeling of unintended tuning that has plagued such shortwave radio lovers on many a stolen night.
So what is that message? As stated, I personally believe the point is not what is being portrayed behind the snowstorm curtain of crackling mystery. Instead, one should wallow in the speculation of and disconnection to an event you will probably never gain knowledge of. As such, what grows from this inference is a nurturance of acceptance. Indeed, Boards of Canada themselves have recently claimed to become more nihilistic. This is obviously represented in the déjà-vu lullaby of Nothing is Real, setting the tone of the overall experience to “bleak”.
That is, of course, unless you find the notion and the imagery beautiful despite their imposing mirage. From acceptance of your place, and the inkling that there may in fact be very little to contemplate of any real cosmic worth, can grow an amazing comfort. At times this, too, is what drives the record. Certain soft cushions seem to be divine insights into one’s growing disturbance, and show some glimpse or window of familiar plains we couldn’t recall previously.
What will come with Tomorrow’s Harvest? What New Seeds will grow, and which crops will Come to Dust? Boards of Canada’s record, while initially seeming darkened and weaved with terrifying undercurrent, seems to tell us that tomorrow should remain tomorrow. Allow time to harvest itself, let events unfurl – whatever their nature. Let the melodies of life drive incessantly, repetitively, past you in their cycles on that dream-like highway. Everything will collapse. But it will all be alright.
‘Jesus, was it you, indeed,
To flirt unkindly with my greed?
Promising eternal life,
When you knew it was not right.
When you knew that what i’d need was willingness and comfort there’
– Track 13, Nothing is Real
Originally posted at my old blog, The Green Tea Rooms.