Album Reviews: Campfire Headphase by Boards of CanadaA lot of artists and songwriters talk about things like "experimenting," "branching out," and "defying expectations." But sometimes, the best art comes from working at one thing until you do it really, really well. What Boards of Canada do really, really well -- probably better than anyone -- is make simple, fragile, impossibly gorgeous ambient music, and with their latest, The Campfire Headphase, they've released what may well be their masterpiece.
On paper, the Boards of Canada formula sounds pretty straightforward: lay subdued trip-hop beats under electronic soundscapes adorned with pretty, minimalist chord progressions, and bury the whole thing underneath a woozy, soft-focus haze of vinyl pops and hisses, radio static and filter effects. But when masterfully executed by BoC's Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin, these hushed little sonic exercises -- they almost don't even qualify as songs -- take on an ethereal, otherworldly beauty. Not even ambient maestros like Brian Eno and Aphex Twin have ever quite matched BoC's uncanny ability to make what really should be background music sound so compelling.
The Campfire Headphase works best when listened to all the way through, but for nuggets of pure ambient bliss, "Hey Saturday Sun" and "Chromakey Dreamcoat" shine the brightest. Both of these tracks, and several others, use guitars in addition to BoC's traditional synths, which some critics will undoubtedly point to as a sign that BoC are, indeed, "branching out." Ultimately, however, Sandison and Eoin are simply using different tools towards the same end, refining their craft and producing music as haunting as any you're ever likely to hear. - Andy Hermann
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