#40

October 14, 2010

Boards of Canada Geogaddi
IDM, electronic, downtempo, ambient
2002

Geogaddi remains the pinnacle of Boards of Canada’s work, taking the skittish beats and dreamy atmosphere of Music Has the Right to Children and fleshing it out to its most organic, seamless state. Paradoxically, the music here feels both timeless and anchored, in that it powerfully evokes thoughts that seem tied Boards of Canada - Geogaddito a certain place and time, such as childhood adventure and uncertainty (an evocation rendered even more prominent by the assorted samples of children’s speech and laughter scattered across many of the album’s tracks), but it never becomes distinct enough to determine just whose childhood we’re revisiting, leading to a sense of constant displacement that’s central to the album’s impact. The mixture of short and long tracks draws an interesting line between “songs” and “snippets”, infusing Geogaddi with an almost chaptered feel, with the snippets acting as palate cleansers and enabling each of the “proper” songs to have an even greater individual impact on the listener. Each of my personal favourite tracks – “Music is Math”, “Julie and Candy”, “1969”, “Sunshine Recorder”, “The Beach at Redpoint”, “Dawn Chorus” and “You Could Feel the Sky” – are made so much more powerful by the way that they arise seemingly out of nowhere, rather than trailing immediately after other full-length tracks. Music Has the Right to Children positioned Boards of Canada as one of the late-90s most exciting electronic acts. Geogaddi not only surpasses it, but also holds a place as one of the very best electronic albums of the 2000s.

 

#72

August 16, 2010

Air10,000 Hz Legend
electronic, ambient, experimental-pop
2001

10,000 Hz Legend is Air’s “rock album”, so to speak, augmenting the French duo’s electronic music with guitars, foot-tappy melodies, prominent vocalists and an absence of the group’s trademark, floaty “loungetronica” for about 90% of the album. With its surreal lyrics and more hard-edged electronic effects, it could be said that the album is weirder than Moon Safari, but it arguably has more mainstream appeal – the aptly-titled “Radio #1” works well as a sing-along single and the charismatic guest appearances by Beck, Jason Falkner and Buffalo Daughter help several the songs to avoid sounding faceless. The humour present in tracks like “How Does it Make You Feel” and “Wonder Milky Bitch” are a welcome delight, never detouring into novelty but instead injecting the songs with a touch of humanity that’s sorely lacking from albums both before and since. Air - 10 000 Hz LegendThe couple of ambient tracks play out with a new twist, too – the Egyptian-sounding themes of “Radian” are like nothing else the group have created yet, and closing track “Caramel Prisoner” is like wading through syrup (or floating in space, I still haven’t decided). With many regarding it as something of a sophomore slump, my love of 10,000Hz Legend makes me feel a bit like the solitary flag-waver in an otherwise empty parade. I’ll keep on waving my flag, though – albums with this much personality are worth it.

#84

July 23, 2010

Cliff Martinez – Solaris
ambient
2002

Solaris, the original score for Steven Soderbergh’s adaptation of the Stanislaw Lem novelCliff Martinez - Solaris (and earlier film by Andrei Tarkovsky), is a breathtaking combination of fragile electronic flickers and subtle orchestral flourishes. Cliff Martinez proves himself to be a master of texture, timing and restraint, as the pieces here are beautifully composed to present the ideal balance between light and shade, serenity and gravitas, security and eeriness. Without a single vocal track, zero percussion and generally quite little variation in instrumentation, the music of Solaris still extends itself from the gentle loneliness of “She Will Come Back” and “Is That What Everybody Wants” on through the cautious optimism of “Don’t Blow It” and finally to the emotionally gripping delivery of the album’s centrepiece, the ten-plus minute “Hi Energy Proton Accelerator.” The sparse, ethereal feel of the music allows Solaris to quite perfectly reflect the isolation, confusion and displacement felt by the film’s lead character, thus setting a mood that boasts plenty of emotional pull. Like many of the best soundtracks, it stands firmly as a great album in its own right.

#90

July 9, 2010

Belong – October Language
ambient, drone, noise
2006

Too minimal and unstructured to be shoegazer. Too fuzzy to be ambient. October Language is virtually impossible to classify, and it’s challenging, enthralling listening from start toBelong - October Language finish. Occasionally bearing a slight resemblance to Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works: Vol 2, Belong’s debut release consists entirely of guitar drone, distortion and glitch, which combine to create an overall soundscape that will absolutely immerse you. While Aphex Twin’s masterpiece had repeating motifs for you to cling to, Belong offers no such luxury – the tracks drift and flow in a seemingly random manner, with elements of the instrumentation withering away without warning, only to reemerge (with just as little warning) at a later point. All this makes the album sound organic and totally directionless. This is unique, unpredictable and haunting music, and it’s quite unlike anything else you’ve heard before.

#99

July 3, 2010

Ulrich Schnauss – A Strangely Isolated Place
ambient, electronic
2003

A Strangely Isolated Place isn’t a groundbreaking album in the field of electronic music, nor is it especially creative, experimental or challenging. The synths are your basic layered variety and the beats sound like something that any reasonably talented bedroom-producer could make on their laptop. It’s the sort of album that flies way under your radar, never Ulrich Schnauss - A Strangely Isolted Placereally putting itself out there as an important work, content in its aim to merely leave the listener feeling good. In this goal, it passes with flying colours. This is the kind of simplistic, by-the-numbers work that reminds you that, in the hands of the right person, sometimes less is more, as Ulrich Schnauss’ musical creations put up no barriers to enjoyment whatsoever, enveloping the listener in buoyant washes of sublime ambiance one track after another. It’s absolutely wonderful stuff, seemingly underwhelming for the first minute or two (so make sure you wait those two minutes out), it just gets under your skin and leaves you surprised at just how much you want to listen to it over and over again.