Looking back at… Music Has The Right To Children by Boards of Canada

words fae karsten walter (@boc_maxima)

Boards of Canada are some of the most oddly seductive musicians, shrouded in an absorbing secrecy that begs their fans to not only speculate, question and investigate them, but to listen intently, and be pulled into a compelling and familiar world that feels barren, but also full of life at the same time. Their debut studio album, Music Has the Right to Children, was an early masterclass from the Scottish duo, shaping the sound of electronic music for the next twenty years.

Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin’s unique sound of eeriness, nature, and nostalgia was brought to the masses on this hour-long cut in 1998, where they released their most unified, carefully formulated work yet, meticulously establishing their own certain sounds as their signature and layering techniques as their mastery. The two brothers (a fact that was not discovered till the noughties, to dispel comparisons to cult electronic duo Orbital) had, until this point, recorded tracks together for themselves, then circulating sometimes only dozens of copies to close friends and family. Only when they mustered the courage to send a copy of their demo EP to Autechre’s Sean Booth did Skam and Warp Records realise the possibility of taking Boards of Canada to the next level.

Image result for boards of canada
Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin in a rare appearance, unfortunately not on stage; instead, in front of a photographer.

The opening notes of the track Wildlife Analysis could undoubtedly become stuck in your head for the rest of time. It leads into the trip-hoppy An Eagle In Your Mind, which starts off as an amalgamation of odd (but undoubtedly calculated) beats, before developing into a smooth and pulsating track. The moment halfway through when the deep, rich synth bounces into the track, resonating for seconds each time, is first-rate. If only Boards did live shows again, we could witness that moment in real life.

MHTRTC is generally, by fans, considered to be the band’s masterpiece. It encapsulates all the qualities of Boards that they’ve known to grow and love, which would all feature on future albums; for example, their unique and masterful management of layering and texture, or their certainly distinctive use of samples. A prime example is their creepy use of kids saying “I love you” from Sesame Street on the track The Colour of the Fire, or their remarkable ability to transform the funk sounds of Earth Wind & Fire into the moody Sixtyten.

Turquoise Hexagon Sun is a psychedelic masterpiece, with a heavy beat, that is covered by a gorgeous synth melody, filtered with faint voices in the discussion. The melody is unforgettable, and almost haunting in the way it can throw you into a trance in seconds. Roygbiv starts off with a dark melodic bassline, before switching to a bright and warm beat that feels like a summer’s day on the beach: alone, but familiar.

The duo’s name is inspired by The National Filmboard of Canada, the origin of hundreds of environmental and scientific education films watched by the brothers once they moved to Canada as young children. The nature of these films, “grainy and wobbly” as described by them in a 1999 review, is what led them to use old cheap taping methods that gave a nostalgic, personal, and handmade ambience. The personal side of things has always been very important to Sandison and Eion. Before the full release of MHTRTC, the duo had already taped what is rumoured to be hundreds of tracks which, unfortunately, may never see the light of day. In the same 1999 review, they state that only releasing 200 of their first record, Boc Maxima didn’t matter to them – “it’s lovely to hear that people we’ve never met are really enjoying our music”, but “our friends and families hear all the music we write, and that’s all that matters really”.

Pete Standing Alone shows the influences Sandison and Eion followed in the early 90s, like Aphex Twin, and the aforementioned Autechre. This track’s headphone-piercing beats runs away from the emphasis on synths and complex melodies, rather depending on atmospheric chordsDespite coming into the public eye years after them, the brothers can now easily be mentioned in the same sentence as electronic forefathers, and MHTRTC can certainly be thrown into the same pool as Selected Ambient Works 85-92 and Tri RepetaeLooking back on the album now, the influence it has had is inescapable; many of the electronic artists of our day, the calm, chill electronica are undoubtedly inspired by Boards of Canada and this album. Some would even say that they are almost proto-vaporwave.

For many older fans, the duo’s music instills a memory of the same memories Boards had, filling them with nostalgia and maybe even a wish back to the innocent times and lives they had back then. But the ever-present haunt within Boards’ music is there for a reason and the naturalness of their music will be a part of what makes them so special for years to come. Music Has The Right to Children is the ultimate testament to that.

Top 10 Weezer Tracks

By Karsten Walter (@boc_maxima)2017-10-19

It’s 2017, and Weezer have a new album coming out next week. That’s nearly 30 years on the clock for the band that has divided critique and opinion throughout their career. Certainly, there’s possibly not a more obvious band out there that have had their highs and certainly, undoubtedly, their lows. With Cuomo and crew soon to be back on tour to celebrate the release of new album Pacific Daydream, I thought there’d be no better time to present the top 10 Weezer tracks.

10. Do You Wanna Get High?

To start proceedings is a cut off of Weezer’s 2016 LP, the White Album, which served as a throwback of sorts to the band’s first two records. It still wouldn’t surprise me if this track was a form of an unreleased track from Pinkerton. The aggressive, deep guitar power chords and catchy chorus are reassuring, whilst the honest lyrics reconfirm Rivers Cuomo’s fantastic songwriting skill. This track would have not only fit in well in the 90s, but would have been a monumental success for the band.

9. Island In The Sun

The opening chords of this song can do nothing but calm you, and maybe even really transport your mind to a tropical island, in the sun. Off of their third record, the Green Album, the notable contrast in dynamics between the smooth verses to the destructive guitar chords in the chorus is classic Weezer. This track is as happy as power-pop gets, but also in places, as angry and emotional as possible. It’s an ode to everything summer.

8. Buddy Holly

It wouldn’t be a Weezer list without that song everyone knows. Cuomo and co created their biggest hit on their debut album with Buddy Holly, an infectious and charming cut that purely feels good. The brash guitars clash with the happy-go melody, and the catchy “hoo-hoos” in the background only add to the cheerfulness involved here. Spike Jonze’s iconic video for the track also propelled its popularity and serves the song well.

7. My Name Is Jonas

Definitely the most iconic intro to a Weezer song (and album), possibly one of the most iconic of the 90s completely, My Name Is Jonas was most people’s first experience of the dynamic, moody and cryptic mind of Rivers Cuomo.

6. El Scorcho

One of Weezer’s most peculiar tracks, the piece starts sparse, bizarre and quirky, before turning into a classic harmonious love song in the chorus. And then, just to spice things up in the standard Cuomo way, the track explodes into a frantic frenzy of the frontman speaking heart to heart to the girl of his dreams, begging and pleading for her to make a move as he’s too shy to do it himself. It’s crazy, but it’s Weezer crazy.

5. The Good Life

This one isn’t exclusively a fan favourite by any means but is a personal one. A celebratory and reminiscent song of the good old days, and running away from the monotony of real life, this track is escapism at its best. Cuomo is lamenting at the briefly disadvantaged life he lived in his 20s and adapts it to the average listener.

4. Undone (The Sweater Song)

The band’s first single, and the first one Cuomo wrote is a slow and melodic burner about a failing relationship, that takes all the energy from you and drains your body, drip by drip, into the depressing world of Weezer. It starts with that dissonant guitar lead in the introduction, and by the end finishes with a cacophony of huge, sweeping chords, and rumbling cymbals. It’s the perfect power pop song.

3. Tired Of Sex

Pinkerton was an unusual record  – it took every Weezer fan’s expectations, and for some, ripped them up and threw them in the bin, and others excelled them. This all started with the LP’s opener, Tired Of Sex, an aggressive, in parts animalistic, but honest banger, that definitely made some fans take a step back and go “wait, what?”. From a group that was famed for their nerd culture, their hopelessness with girls, and probably in parts their diminished sex lives, this song is literally about one thing – Rivers Cuomo having too much sex. Sex that is too casual. Sex that confused Cuomo on who he actually is himself. It marked a massive stylistic and contextual change for the band, and a substantial one at that.

2. Only In Dreams

I still think the bassline of this song is imprinted on my mind since the first time I heard it years ago. I also think I could keep humming it for the whole song if I was forced to at gunpoint. It’s maybe a cliche, but it’s also debatably Weezer’s core audience – the geek liking the girl, wanting the girl, dreaming of the girl, but in the end, not getting the girl. It’s slow, melancholy and crushing, but is one of the most memorable album closers to date.

1. Say It Ain’t So

As a teenager, Rivers Cuomo discovered, in the most innocent of ways, his father was an alcoholic. What spawned from it immediately was his family being torn apart, but in the long run, Weezer’s most emotional, agonizing and demanding song was written. It describes the very moment he realised his father’s problem, and his personal inability at dealing with it himself, and takes the top spot for me because of how raw, connecting and powerful it is.

Album Review: Mogwai – Every Country’s Sun

By Karsten Walter (@boc_maxima)

Mogwai are, and always have been, a band that doesn’t make music seeking to satisfy the requirements and expectations of fans or a particular style/genre of music. Instead, they’ve always been a band who create an album in exactly the manner and approach they want to, and aren’t afraid to evolve their sound in an alternative way to their last release. Their new LP, Every Country’s Sun, is further proof of that.

The band first revealed the album by playing it in full at a surprise set at Primavera Sound in Barcelona in June. The LP is the first of Mogwai’s to be produced by legendary engineer Dave Fridmann since their second record, Rock Action, and the influence he has had on it is evident.

Since 2011’s Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, the Scottish band have followed a noticeable change in tone and mood with their music, straying away from the melancholy sounds of Mogwai Young Team and respecting a more extravagant and grand sound which, if anything, inspires rather than weakens the listener. The band are for the most part instrumental but have delved into modern pop songwriting since their second album and on Every Country’s Sun, the track Party in the Dark is the most outright pop song they’ve written yet. Featuring rarely-heard Stuart Braithwaite vocals over instrumentation that is reminiscent of bands such as The Cure and The Jesus and Mary Chain, it doesn’t quite stick as many of the other tracks do, but it’s a worthwhile example of the shift in musical approach from the band.

Brain Sweeties is where the album really seems to take shape, and find itself. The emphatic bassline of the track carries it more than the actual synth-led melody line does, and the slow and meditative rhythm adds to the increased pressure of the track. The strongest piece on the album, Crossing the Road Material is an epic and thrilling track that hits the spot. It’s Mogwai at their best, and is easily one of their best to date, and would feel at home in their early discography. The grand and inspiring chorus is led by a high-pitched melody that just keeps rising in what is one of the band’s best progressions yet. It eventually descends to a calming climax, and gives the listener goosebumps like any good post-rock piece should.

aka 47 is another track that is reminiscent of the band’s previous discography, a slow and private number, that makes fantastic use of the synths the Scottish band have become so familiar with in the past decade. Although different to many other tracks on the LP, it doesn’t feel out of place, even when neighbouring two straight post-rock pieces that Mogwai are renowned for. The other one of these tracks is 20 Size, a heavy and hard-hitting recording with a slow yet fierce guitar melody carrying it, surrounded by the accomplished fills of drummer Martin Bulloch. It ends abruptly but in the best way it could.

The band return to a reserved output with Don’t Believe the Fife; that is until the energetic and raw chords of Stuart Braithwaite. Mogwai have always been fantastic at recognising the dynamic contrast between quiet and loud, and interweaving the two into a track effectively. This track is the perfect example, seeming at first like another minimal synth piece, before exploding into an emotive, powerful and compelling cacophony of sound. By far the most aggressive piece on the album is Battered At a Scramble, which features the band thrashing their instruments in a fashion that’s familiar to their early records. The drums are loud and messy and the guitar screeches like an animal. Mogwai don’t rest with this on the next track, Old Poisons, which equally sounds like the Scots having their way with their instruments. The dynamic contrast to earlier tracks is astounding, and shows the large palette of sounds that Mogwai can put to their use.

The closing track, the title track is testament to this. It ends on a brutal note, that on first listen reminds the listener of bands such as Deafhaven (which may not come as a surprise to some after their cover of Punk Rock and CODY by Mogwai). It’s the perfect way to show how Every Country’s Sun is able to attain both the hymnal and beautiful track in those such as Coolverine, but still stay savage as they have been in the past.

Albeit not the band’s defining work, or the best flowing or most coherent one, Every Country’s Sun is wonderful proof of Mogwai’s signature sound being still being developed decades on from their debut in the post-rock world.

8/10

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Album Review: Broken Social Scene – Hug of Thunder

By Karsten Walter (@karseatheadrest)

Seven years after their previous release and over a decade since their arrival on the indie-rock scene, Broken Social Scene announced their new album Hug of Thunder this year, bringing back their experimental, baroque-rock sound, infused with electronic influences and grand classical orchestration. Their new release sounds new and fresh, yet reminisces of the inventive and intricate sounds found in their previous albums such as You Forgot It In People, and their self-titled LP.

The first track on the LP, Halfway Home, makes no secret of this – it’s an explosion of noise that marks the Canadian collective’s arrival, with fun and vibrant instrumentation and masterful use of dynamics and texture to create a track that is a wonderful opener to the album. As the first single the band released before the album came out, it feels like what will be the most popular track from it, and definitely the most enjoyable.

The album transitions into Protest Song, sang by Emily Haines. The versatility of Broken Social Scene is what makes the band so special, and it adds to the unique creativity that the band bring to the table with each of their album releases. The exchange of vocals between individual artists in the band highlight this, with some headed by Kevin Drew and others by fellow artists such as Feist. Haines’ vocals on this track are quaint and suit the track and its’ instrumentation. The ethereal and reverb-ridden Skyline follows, where the repetitive lyrics and guitar strums feel somewhat tiresome, showing a lack of creative consistency within the album in places.

Stay Happy is a particular strong point for the album, where the compact and sharp drums, accompanied by a prominent and strong bassline carry the track to a climactic and powerful ending, where the extra orchestration of the band are made evident. The title track, Hug of Thunder, is Feist’s delightful return to the band, after, and her vocals are absolutely perfect for a song of this intimate and discreet dynamic. Similar to Stay Happy, the synth electronic drums suit the piece again here. In an April 2017 interview with Stereogum, Feist lays out the spontaneous and brisk process for the song’s creation, and the momentum of more band members and more instruments being added in the birth of the track has worked well, creating a sentimental and meaningful piece.

Tracks such as Victim Lover seem uninspired – whilst many of the tracks on this record and many in Broken Social Scene’s past discography are inventive, out-going and experimental, Victim Lover and Gonna Get Better don’t seem to be in a similar vein, and simply don’t seem as interesting.

A highlight of the album is Please Take Me With You, a dynamically lacking piece that is a direct contrast to the explosions of sound found in parts of the album, that tells a story of a love-struck protagonist, desiring the touch and warmth of a particular someone. The breakbeat-influenced drumbeats don’t seem like they’d fit in such a quiet and romantic piece, but really help carry the song in an unprecedented way.

Hug of Thunder is a welcome return for the Canadian indie supergroup, where they made sure to implement sounds from their past and the current, and infusions that border on the future. There are some tracks that seem underwhelming but they are contrasted with emotive and clever songwriting on others, that makes for an enjoyable listen.

7/10


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