Boards of Canada blend sounds from hundreds of sources, including recorded nature and computer-made beats, into warm, evocative collages, rarely with obvious themes or common structures. They first did so as children, apparently starting to record their experiments around the age of 10. Eventually they became masters of their art, releasing three classic electronic-ambient albums, Music Has The Right to Children, Geogaddi and The Campfire Headphase.
Brothers Michael and Marcus Eoin Sandison barely do anything to promote their music: interviews and photos are scarce, tours never happen. Nevertheless, their music speaks for itself. They spent years as teenagers and young adults experimenting with recording methods, found sounds, loops and other techniques to build up soundscapes from scratch. Eventually, when both brothers were in their mid-20s, they began to allow friends and family to hear their work, and Autechre’s Sean Booth was impressed. His label Skam Records put out a Boards of Canada EP Hi Scores in 1996, and the brothers were then persuaded to release a full-length album for electronica label Warp.
Music Has The Right To Children (1998) was hugely acclaimed on release, a landmark record for ambient electronica. While merging hip-hop beats with synths and found sounds wasn’t especially groundbreaking, rarely had it been done so evocatively, with so much heart, as on Music Has The Right. New darlings of Warp and fans of IDM and ambient styles, Boards of Canada did play a few live shows around this time, and released an EP in 2000 In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country, while they worked on a full-length follow-up.
When it arrived in 2002, Geogaddi was similarly acclaimed as a highly accomplished ambient record. The Skinny compared the two in 2009, while ranking Geogaddi the fifth best Scottish album of that decade: “If 1998's Music has the Right to Children was the record that opened up modern electronic music to whole new vistas of possibility – both in terms of its staggering emotional charge and its radically holistic approach to instrumentation and melody – then 2002's Geogaddi is the album that found Boards of Canada attempting to deploy their own aesthetic innovations from new and disorienting perspectives.”
For third album The Campfire Headphase (2005), the brothers made a change. “The new record is probably the slowest record that we've done” they said in a very rare interview. “And it's got guitars on it as well. This is something that we've done slightly deliberately. We knew that we had to break away from this thing. It bothered us that if you go into the big stores our stuff is always sitting in the dance music section. We never made a dance record in our entire career but our stuff still gets thrown in there. “ Although the change in approach was at first viewed skeptically by some fans, it was a grower. The Campfire Headphase was called “exquisite” and “unashamedly beautiful” when The Skinny named it the ninth best Scottish album of the 2000s.
Fourth album Tomorrow’s Harvest (2013) was met with more positive reviews, but it perhaps didn’t have the impact of any of the prior three records: the stunning debut, the beautiful follow-up, or the slow-burning third. Having spent so long in gestation, it was “tentative” in parts, according to The Skinny’s review. Boards of Canada’s plans for the future, like many things about them, are unknown.
Boards of Canada group members:
Marcus Eoin Sandison
Boards of Canada discography (studio albums and EPs)
Twoism EP (1995)
Hi Scores EP (1996)
Aquarius EP (1998)
Music Has the Right to Children (1998)
Peel Session TX 21/07/1998 EP (1999)
In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country EP (2000)
The Campfire Headphase (2005)
Trans Canada Highway EP (2006)
Tomorrow's Harvest (2013)