30 May 2006

Trans Canada Highway

When Boards of Canada started achieving prominence, it was common for people to post on the Internet about how much they were like Autechre. Even today, they’re often spoken of in the same breath. Yet I’ve come to see Boards of Canada as the opposite of Autechre.

Autechre’s driving force—and crippling problem—has always been their perpetual desire for novelty. Their first album was fairly conventional, at least by the standards of electronica; perhaps because it was really a compilation of unrelated tracks, perhaps because they were extremely limited in the equipment available to them. (Their sampler at the time was a Casio SK-1.) The second album, Amber, had a completely different lush and ambient sound.

But according to interviews I’ve read, Autechre almost gave up music after Amber, because for a long time they couldn’t come up with anything different enough that they felt it was worth doing. When they eventually released tri repetae, it was completely different in style; spare and mechanical. The next album, Chiastic Slide, was yet another complete change, in favor of textures made up of densely packed fragments of digital sound.

The problem is, at some point the quest for intellectual novelty collides with the desire to create something someone might actually want to listen to. In my view, Chiastic Slide was their last uniformly great release. Since then, there have been moments where experimental and listenable have meshed (the title track of Gantz_graf for example), but they’ve been lamentably rare.

So I see Boards of Canada are the anti-Autechre, in that they’ve released the same album five or six times now. If you like anything they’ve released since 1994, then I can confidently predict you’ll like everything else they’ve released since 1994.

Yes, there has been some gentle stylistic progression and variation; The Campfire Headphase had more guitar, and the latest EP is a bit darker. But like Vini Reilly, they know what they do well, and they pretty much keep on doing it.

The new Trans Canada Highway EP is available from bleep.com. They’re selling it as unprotected MP3 files, or as full quality lossless audio in FLAC format.

Also, as a reminder of Autechre’s earlier listenable albums, the Gescom EP The Sounds of Machines Our Parents Used is available as an MP3 or FLAC download. This one is particularly good value, because it’s widely regarded as one of their best, and copies of the hard-to-find original 1995 vinyl release regularly list for over $100. Now for a mere $5.49 you can have lossless uncompressed audio, with no vinyl clicks or pops—just intentional electronic ones.

And if you’re a goldenears type you can buy a Vestax VRX-2000, cut the FLAC files into vinyl, spread a little dust on it, and hear the tracks as originally intended.

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