Album review: Boards of Canada’s “Geogaddi”

Fifteen years ago, the electronic music duo Boards of Canada released their second full-length album, “Geogaddi.” After their surprisingly large debut four years earlier, the pressure was on to create an exciting new evolution of their style. While I only discovered this album about six years ago, I have enjoyed learning about the creative process that led to its unique sound.

Boards of Canada is a Scottish duo featuring two brothers, Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin Sandison. They had a wide influence on computer music in the late nineties and early 2000s due to their innovative usage of familiar techniques–such as tape sampling–and wholly different type of work.

It is difficult to describe Boards of Canada’s music in terms of common genres; you will often hear it called psychedelic downtempo, ambient trip-hop, experimental hip-hop, electronica, or any combination of those. On their albums, they have a mix of beat-driven feature tracks and ambient interludes. Their music features tape samples and early synthesizers. They often incorporate puzzles and secrets for fans to figure out, such as mysterious sequences of spoken numbers or reversed audio snippets.

As a whole, “Geogaddi” is dark and heavy. I think of it as music you hear while you fall asleep in the sun. It is the feeling of orange heat on your eyelids. There are ominous tones and warning messages contained in nearly every track, even those that seem pleasant at first. In interviews, the brothers said that they felt some pressure to create a new sound—which led to the dark tone—but wanted to preserve elements of their original style.

Standout tracks include “Gyroscope,” which Mike claims to have composed almost entirely in a dream, which includes a right-left panning drum loop that leaves the listener dizzy, and “The Devil Is In The Details,” which, using a repeated synth pluck sound and speech samples, creates the illusion of being surrounded by invisible figures hiding in tall grass. Sub-minute-length interludes like “In The Annexe” break up the onslaught of discomforting soundscapes with evocations of skies and open spaces.

“Geogaddi” is a cohesive album with an interesting long form, an almost-theatrical beginning-to-end program. The brothers called it “a record for some sort of trial by fire, a claustrophobic, twisting journey that takes you into some pretty dark experiences before you reach the open air again.” The first and final tracks are the lightest in mood, representing the two ends of the dark tunnel, while the heaviest tracks, like “Sunshine Recorder” and “The Beach At Redpoint” sit in the middle.

Even fifteen years later, “Geogaddi” gives a very vivid feeling of place and sensation to the imaginative listener. The best way to listen to it, I think, is in a single sitting while you relax outdoors in a favorite place. When you find yourself lost in its disturbing world, it is easy to see why it and Boards of Canada’s other early releases inspired so many other electronic acts.