"There's a timeless thing in our environment," Marcus Eoin of Boards Of Canada told the Guardian last week in a rare interview. "In an urban setting you can't really escape being reminded of the current year, and music fashions and so on." That the reclusive Scottish duo makes music off the grid shouldn't come as a great surprise: since their classic 1998 debut, Music Has The Right To Children, Boards Of Canada have operated as a closed system, making music resembling very little but their own.
If you were going to level a complaint at the group, it's that they've never left the world they've created for themselves. The music they've released since Music Has The Right To Children has been commendable, but how many times can you circle a private island? Their last full-length, 2005's The Campfire Headphase, brought some new sounds into the fold, but it didn't feel like a departure so much as a sending-off party, with guitars and major keys lifting them above the gloom and into the ether. Where they were heading, though, was anyone's guess. As it turns out, they weren't going anywhere: Tomorrow's Harvest, their latest, takes another pass through the ghostly terrain they've traversed so many times before. Yes, terrifying bird chirps are back, and you'll have a new list of seemingly random numbers to assign meaning to. But if they're holding fast to the sound that made them legends, they're also making the formula sound brand new. This latest dive into the fog drudges up some of the darkest, most paranoid and keenly focused music of their career.
Tomorrow's Harvest opens with dissonant arpeggios and a heap of fuzz—what John Carpenter might record if he took a job soundtracking a Michael Mann film. This theme sticks for the album's duration, like a steady drizzle that doesn't let up for weeks. The clouds only part sporadically, but when they do, we get some of the most unabashedly gorgeous music in Boards Of Canada's discography. "Cold Earth" has the kind of wandering melody and head-nodding beat we've heard innumerable times from this group, but the space they leave in the mix brings clarity to its strange chords and rhythmic nuance. Driven by a ghostly piano and strings filtered down to little more than a high-frequency scratch, "Nothing Is Real" provides some rays of sunlight. Mostly, though, we're left sifting through chilly ambience and tangled drum patterns, driven by the lingering sense of some greater meaning. All the clues lead to the bleakest stop on the map, "Semena Mertvykh" ("seeds of the dead" in Russian), where horror-movie strings struggle to stay afloat on an all-encompassing bassy rumble. They eventually die out altogether in an impossibly long fade, leaving you in the black for an uncomfortable 15 seconds before the track finally reaches its conclusion.
What's strange, though, is that for all this foreboding, the listener is never dragged down. I chalk this up to the pacing: bright spots are woven amidst more ruminative fare, providing a sense of narrative that's too often absent in full-lengths these days. Loaded with recurring motifs and studio trickery, Tomorrow's Harvest makes for an especially cryptic listen. Even the most careful listener will be left wondering what it all means. Luckily, Boards Of Canada have laid out a riddle we won't tire of teasing out, embedded in a timeless sound unlike any other.