Analysis: Boards of Canada and the Power of Patience

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The problem is we already have enough music.

And that’s the fault of the Internet. The ability to access anything anytime anywhere has meant that we no longer have the patience to listen to anything that’s not amazing. We’re too busy looking for the next great whatever. And that has a consequence. The days of waiting for something, anything to grow on you, the discipline of allowing time to let a mood unfold and embrace your imagination are gone.

And that time has gone because we access all our music via the Internet today, whether by browser or BitTorrent. We have attention spans that would make a goldfish blush. When we search for something, we find a thousand links and try the first one we see because god help our computers if we don’t get exactly what we expect immediately. If we’re in a good mood, we give the artist the benefit of the doubt for thirty seconds, around ten if we’re not. And if we’re not satisfied that this choice will make us happy, if we don’t get that fix, a visceral reaction from the first frame of the YouTube vid – thats it. We move on without a second thought.

Musicians know this. We’re all writing that break-through song, the genius moment that will convert our Youtube count from 100,000 (rubbish) to 10,000,000 (promising). We’re working flat out writing instantly gratifying hits because nothing else counts. We have a generation of one hit wonders, new artists who are aiming to go big, go fast and cash out quickly before the next. And in 2014, that’s what the market requires, the abandonment of the album, the focus on a stream of ‘tracks’ that demand attention. We can’t resist this trend and it doesn’t matter if we try. Our audiences live by the playlist anyway.

This premise is as misguided as a Christmas Tree in July. The world, by which I mean everyone who ever chooses to listen to music, is pining for artists to immerse themselves in. Singles are great, but they’re the sweets that you can’t eat between meals. They ruin your appetite. They’re not enough to sustain audiences but they are the focus of every band’s marketing campaign… and that’s why so few albums satisfy. The singles sounded too much like singles, and the albums couldn’t possibly live up to the elevated expectations it setup. Katy Perry’s Roar is a classic, but how many people have you heard discussing the virtues of the album it is supposed to have set up? Do you even know what the album is called? If you do know, how much do you care?

One of the greatest disruptive technological advances for the TV industry has been the box set and its cyber-progeny Netflix. Now, for the first time, it’s considered intellectually acceptable, actually encouraged for someone to set aside an evening, even a weekend to watch an entire series of a TV show in one gulp. In fact more than a series, as much as you can cram in. And we do this because we genuinely enjoy it PLUS we get to live inside a world of escape with interesting characters whose every move we want to experience because they’re fully drawn and they’re interesting. There were no filler tracks on Breaking Bad.

That’s why I listen to Boards of Canada. They haven’t released anything that resembles a proper single since, oh I don’t know, ever. Their music demands you spend time with it, learn it, feel it, otherwise you get, well… nothing much. If you dip into it, it makes no greater impact than any other floaty electronica acts. No hits here, it’s just not that kind of music.

My choice, and there were so many tunes that could have made the selection, is Jacquard Causeway from their 2013 album Tomorrow’s Harvest. It’s one of the most awkward, peculiar and intriguing pieces of electronica I’ve ever heard. Not for BOC the obscurities of label mates Autechre or the trying-a-bit-too-hard of Aphex Twin, instead they present us with a familiar beat, then stamp all over with annoying cross rhythms. There’s something here that resembles a melody too, but it lurches and meanders like Wagner after a fist fight.

So you have to spend time with this music. Like The Bridge, it doesn’t work if you simply dip in once a week. Immerse yourself today. Oh, and stop listening to singles, you’re only encouraging the musicians.

[Steve Hillier]

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