How do today’s consumers grasp art? Considering that context frames content, how many of us pause to pop the periscope up to poke around? Open a paper/page and the contrary appears to be the case: critics concoct obtuse categories (Alternative!) to contain it and consumers resort to vague terms (Interesting!) to explain it. Convenience reduces process to a product, tagged, that’s it.
The shame of all this passive aggressive shame is that creators do not necessarily have a better sense of what it’s all about. While an artist can speak on original intent, he or she is not expected to psychoanalyze our responses; ?uestlove writes meaty liners, but I certainly don’t expect him to draw out every subtlety of The Tipping Point for me. In fact, one might venture to say that some artists appreciate multiple interpretations (Gasp!) of their work. And therein lies the particular fun of art: oh, the many roads to be traveled…
The joy then of Boards of Canada’s The Campfire Headphase is that it creates a welcome space for both artist and audience. While the duo’s first two records often buried themselves in an insular crypt—the underwater boom bap of Music Has the Right to Children and the calculated nod factor of Geogaddi got mostly the Internet boys goin’ crazy—its third proper LP takes the audience’s lead, as well as guiding its audience with a clearer group voice; melodic guitars and clear hooks court the listener, while complex effects drape the songs in the duo’s characteristically oblique manner. Patiently, the album unfolds as a listener’s experience. Like the title suggests, The Campfire Headphase is part communal experience—gather around the album and share—part personal odyssey—my headphones rock better than yours, damn right…
The Campfire Headphase‘s initial pull is through familiar motifs and sensations. Like a transistor radio finding the right tuning, “Into the Rainbow Vein” opens the record with an admitted confusion, a subtle hint that what follows is subject to your memories and ideas. Little surprise then that “Chromakey Dreamcoat” is a backward glance at a picture [of who?], a pastime guitar replayed to present-day breaks. Similarly, “Satellite Anthem Icarus” triggers the synapses with sounds of slow-rolling waves and acoustic spirals undulating vertically to the rhythm of the tide. In spite of washing each track with discombobulating tunnels of echo and comatose tambourines, Boards of Canada provide enough aural cues to settle the listener in their preferred mood and atmosphere.
With gradual degrees, The Campfire Headphase‘s sonic textures become apparent. “Peacock Tail” opens in a velvet clef, dripping layers of chocolate fondue upon the ears. The bass alone is so rich and decadent that all other instruments merely garnish it: Brasilian marches, voices captured from a plasma screen, vibes for melody, and choked drum hits play musical merry-go-round to keep attention in constant motion. Similarly, “84 Pontiac Dream” lumbers awkwardly as caramel guitar lines glop and clomp their way through a mushy memory, a hash-hazed rehash. As if to fatten a sweet melody, Boards of Canada increasingly draws attention to deliberate aural qualities of each track, as if to leave a clear signature.
Not to say that The Campfire Headphase is mere sonic decadence, literal ear candy, because careful arrangement gives roughly half of the compositions a sense of coherence and strength. “Dayvan Cowboy” carefully organizes its sound palette to maximize dramatic potential. A subdued opening of fuzzed guitars in round tandem fall like pixel acid raindrops, while tambourine accents splash through the puddles. The calm is broken to the sound of a descending plane, a larger than life… guitar strum. It is a play between the unexpected and de rigeur. Epic crash cymbals, rides riding into infinity while a drum machine stuffed with pink insulation nods softly. “Farewell Fire” strips much of the trimming in favor of guitars—albeit 1,000 tremelos replacing pipe organs in their dance in the church cupola’s apex. As this Sin City soundtrack and St. Elmo’s Fire drayma demonstrate, Boards of Canada has graduated from cheap boom baps toasting arrangements to full blown fiyah productions.
Admittedly, The Campfire Headphase becomes excessive at points. The gut screw of “Slow This Bird Down” is flan fudge, just too much, sedating the listener’s willpower toward the end of the record. In addition to a host of brief segues that flaunt whiffs of ideas before folding itself into the following track, The Campfire Headphase can become an exercise in endurance. Nevertheless, the album is admirable for its sensitivity toward the listening experience, and its affect beyond the studio. So, let the geeks clamor over the next LP’s direction; there’re plenty of stories to tell here.