In the years since its release, Boards of Canada's Music Has the Right to Children
has been elevated to classic status. It helps, of course, that Music Has the Right to Children
is still readily available on an independent label for a modest price, which makes it a far more reasonable and cred-enhancing purchase for "intelligent electronica" newbies than a thirty-five dollar Aphex Twin import -- but most of those purchasers have been, and continue to be, suitably impressed. As a result, Geogaddi
is one of the most eagerly anticipated electronic albums of 2002.
The real question, however, is precisely what everyone is anticipating. Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin still have relatively little material to their credit -- certainly not enough to foster any accurate predictions regarding their rate of stylistic advance -- so it's foolish to expect them to redefine the genre with each new outing. And Geogaddi doesn't redefine the genre; it builds on the foundation created by Music Has the Right to Children, but makes no exponential advances.
However, while Geogaddi takes place in the same musical world as Music..., it's obvious that the neighborhood has gone downhill a bit since our last visit; the landscape seems darker and more warped, as if trapped in the shadow of the group's skyscraping sonic concepts. You can still hear children's voices in the mix -- BoC's penchant for faceless nostalgia remains intact -- but these kids are a little less welcoming; Geogaddi's children are the kids whose creepy laughter you always hear in horror movies. They know more about what's going on here than you; they're part of this mostly harmless fever dream.
Of course, paranoia in electronic music is nothing new, but to their credit, Sandison and Eoin don't layer it on too thick; it's more of a subtle wrongness than out-and-out menace, rather like a dream in which events are perfectly normal, but colors and shapes and sounds are subtly off, and you know that sooner or later your first great teacher will ride up on a jetski, vomit up a human finger, and offer you sexual favors. Geogaddi, however, offers no grand payoff in the weirdness stakes; it wants to be pretty. From "Ready Lets Go" onward, the disc proffers warm, organic melodies -- crystal-clear keyboard tones stretched, warped and molded into endless, curved planes of sound, infested with uneasy, assertive, slightly disorganized beats. Sometimes the music is introspective, like the sulky, sinus-blocked "Gyroscope", which studiously denies the vigor of its own sampled hand-slap rhythm; elsewhere, as with "Julie and Candy", it sounds like a pop song left too long in the hot sun, melted almost beyond recognition, and yet defiantly tuneful. BoC's extensive use of found vocals gives the music an extra layer of complexity; beyond the rhythm and melody, both of which beg for appropriate deconstruction, there's that supplemental burst of information, crying out to be deciphered and contextualized.
Geogaddi follows the example of the Aphex Twin's recent overkill extravaganza, Drukqs, by alternating between shorter atmospheric pieces and longer, more fleshed-out ideas. It works better here than it did on Drukqs, as the transition between the two types of music is gentler. Geogaddi's shorter pieces play more like establishing shots, setting the scene for the larger, more action-oriented sequences. "Dawn Chorus", for instance, makes such a strong impact because rather than following directly on the heels of "The Devil is in the Details", it comes after two minutes of ambient buffer. The short pieces aren't intended as lead-ins, but there's no mistaking their impact on the disc's overall mood.
Geogaddi isn't a classic. Indeed, simply by holding close to the path followed by Music Has the Right to Children, it may inspire a reassessment of BoC's long-term potential as innovators -- or make their third album a do-or-die affair. Disappointing, however, it is not.