New Music Tuesday: Boards of Canada • Surfer Blood • CSS • Jagwar Ma • Gold Panda

Every Tuesday, we focus on new music releases by naming our top tracks, album highlights, lowlights and important takeaways for select albums.

Boards of CanadaTomorrow’s Harvest

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Nothing is Real”
“Cold Earth”
“Palace Posy”

Album Highlights: Tomorrow’s Harvest is today’s feast as Boards of Canada return with their first album in 8 years. Scottish brothers Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin are just as good as ever, whether this record was 8 years in the making or they were on an 8 year vacation (or somewhere in between). Better? That is still up for debate.

Tomorrow’s Harvest is an “environmental” album, and if you’ve ever heard Boards of Canada, you understand this description. Their lo-fi, dreamy electronic beats are cinematic – the atmospheric flow evokes visual accompaniment. Their sound derives from 1970’s science fiction soundtracks, incorporating reverb heavy ambience and glitchy mechanical beats, sprinkled with thousands of samples and sounds. The more you listen, the more you hear. Songs like “Reach for the Dead,” “White Cyclosa” and “Split Your Infinities” sound like your hypothetical space vessel is being boarded by an aliens in the far reaches of the galaxy.

The songs on Tomorrow’s Harvest (and all Boards of Canada music, really) thrive in various environments for the listener. Your opinion and perception of a song, or the album, is heavily influenced by your surroundings, both physical and mental. There are an infinite number scenarios where Tomorrow’s Harvest will “click”, and when it does, it’s marvelous. A song might not work one context, but will work well in another. I got the most out of this record while driving at night or while sitting in bed with all of the lights off. It’s up to the listener.

I hear something new every time I listen to this record. To an extent, that is exactly what Boards of Canada was going for with this record. Giving a rare interview to the Guardian, Boards of Canada revealed some of the thought behind Tomorrow’s Harvest. This record could be much deeper than one might think with only a handful of listens, and we are just beginning to tap into what Board of Canada had in mind with this album. According to the artists themselves, Tomorrow’s Harvest is “loaded with patterns and messages” and “there’s actually more use of subliminals on this record than on any previous album we’ve done, so we’re interested to see what people will pick up on.” The patterns and messages were laid out early with the promotional scavenger hunt; the record store madness and impossible clues that led to the album reveal mirrors the concept in the record itself.

If I had to contextualize it, I would split most of Boards of Canada’s songs into two categories: beats and interludes. When creating an atmospheric ambient album laced with beats and samples, you simply cannot string one beat after another – You’ve got to connect them somehow. Reset the musical palette, if you will. Boards of Canada accomplishes that with this record. There are several beats on here that will be remembered as “classic” Boards when it’s all said and done. Beats like “Cold Earth”, “Nothing is Real” and “Palace Posy”, are connected together with spacey interludes such as “Telepath,” “Collapse” and “Uritual.”

Album Background: The story of this record might actually be more interesting than the record itself. Here we are, in 2013, not having heard from Boards of Canada since 2006, when along comes Record Store Day on April 20th and a mysterious unannounced Boards of Canada vinyl appears in a record store in New York. This vinyl record simply had the band’s name and “—— / —— / —— / XXXXXX / —— / ——“ as the title. The record contained a brief clip of music and a 6 digit code. What could this secret code mean? Several more codes were released through various media outlets such as NPR, Adult Swim and BBC. Eventually all 6 of the codes were discovered and when Boards of Canada launched a new website the codes were used to reveal information about the upcoming album. This guerrilla marketing campaign gave this record a mystique that fits right in Boards of Canada’s wheelhouse.

Takeaway: Boards of Canada have certainly not changed from its abstruse way of doing things. They seem to marvel in the mystery of their own creation. Tomorrow’s Harvest is an incredibly deep album, one that is an auditory journey that stimulates all of the senses. I can’t help but think about visual accompaniment to this record every time I listen to it. It is a record that is proving to be more complex and fascinating with every subsequent listening. Granted, Boards of Canada isn’t for everyone, and it takes a specific mood and environment for it to really shine.

~Kevin Raos

Surfer BloodPythons

3-BamsTop Tracks:
“Demon Dance”
“Slow Six”
“Blair Witch”

Album Highlights: The second album from Florida alt-rock outfit Surfer Blood, Pythons, is based in classic surf rock instrumentation and song structure, but the group laces this traditional sound with just enough sonic psychedelic undercurrents and punk-rock blasts. Power-pop refrains and catchy, singsongy lyrics dominate on the surface level throughout, but punk-rock screaming juxtaposes many of the early songs. In the first single and best track “Demon Dance”, punk-inspired group chanting pierces the track a third of the way through, signaling this isn’t your father’s surf rock. The modulated screaming shows up again in “Weird Shapes”, but here it’s so folded into the candy-coated melody that it’s hardly invasive. The psychedelic noodling is less obvious; for example, the droning high-pitched texture at the end of “Needles & Pins” and the reverbing alien helicopter sound in “Squeezing Blood” requires headphones and observant ears to notice. The subtle psychedelic layers and the in-your-face punk exclamations create a fairly unique sound aesthetic in Pythons.

Two other tracks left a lasting impression. “Slow Six” starts with fuzzy reverb, then feigns tame moments by building into a triumphant, banging wall of sound that peaks and melts into a warm guitar picking outro. “Blair Witch” is tame and soothing in it’s entirety, a tender introspective track, yet it’s also coo for love.

Album Lowlight: Pythons gets a bit repetitious – springy drums, tight-fisted acoustic guitar strumming, lyrics that linger, extended words with low toned Beach-Boy harmonies – it ultimately projects a uniform tone that smothers the record at times. This is especially true during the second half of the LP, where the punk-rock injections dry up and give way to pleasantness over chaos.

Takeaway: This was an odd “grower” of an album for me. Upon first listen it was hard to enjoy the contrasting sound of traditional rock versus the psychedelic/punk outliers. Then I grew to accept, then love, the throwback classic surf-rock sound mixed with the jarring punk-vocal interludes and psych layering. Upon even further listening, it’s a bit one-note. One of the biggest challenges a recording artist endures is creating a unified, cohesive album, but the individual songs need to stand out on their own as well. Pythons is certainly cohesive, yet song to song it is too homogenous.

~Mike Frash


4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Into the Sun”
“Teenage Tiger Cat”

Album Highlights: CSS is back with Planta, a disco-laden new wave powerhouse of an album. Soldering out the rough edges of their three previous efforts, the Brazilian bevy continues to expand on their dance-pop success by introducing sci-fi synth loops and reggaeton hooks. A throwback to the dance halls of the late eighties, CSS utilizes the simplicity of drum machine beats and lazer cross-fades as a driving force behind this album. Especially evident in the songs “Into the Sun” and “Teenage Tiger Cat”, the influence of that era’s archetypes (New Order/Joy Division, etc.) is close to blatant.

Album Lowlight: Vocals remain at the forefront of Planta, per usual for CSS, but remain consistently in English as opposed to their normally bi-lingual recordings. Luísa Hanaê Matsushita undeniably delivers with her breathy semantics, yet the lack of Portuguese incorporation leaves Cansei de Ser Sexy fans craving a bit more of their Brazillian bravado.

Takeaway: Planta is a playfully crafted homage to an era of dance music that chose to look beyond the peripheral s of stale North American discos, branching out to the neighboring scenes across the pond and in South America. Although CSS tones down the riot-girl-rock this album, opting for a much more polished production, their infectious energy and pop tart personas remain consistent. A graduated effort resulting in a near perfect party album for the summer, Planta proves these ladies aren’t “tired of being sexy” just yet.

~Molly Kish

Jagwar MaHowlin

4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Come Save Me”
“The Throw”

Album Highlights: The first album from Australian duo Jagwar Ma sounds as if the psychedelic rock and dance music genres had sex and made the perfect baby. The best example of the inter-coursing between psych-rock and dance can be found in the twelve minute, 2-song punch of “Come Save Me” into “Four”. The two tracks stitch together as one and take the listener on a journey through recent music history – and it works magnificently. “Come Save Me” begins as a lovely, 1960’s Brit-Rock jam until muted lazer sounds, layered clapping, synth and vocal dubbing overtake on a super-extended bridge. Then the track repeats “Found my love looking on the ground”, preparing the ear for pleasurable, repetitious sound. When the clean bass beat and vocal sounds kick in seamlessly at the inception of “Four”, it’s both shocking and awe-inspiring. “Four” is simply one of the most powerful dance tracks of the year, especially within the context of Howlin. The clean beat in “Four” is extra effective due to the psychedelic fuzz that dominates much of the record prior to the minimalist jungle beat.

The record notably begins with a tripped out dance loop that defies traditional song structure. “What Love” only builds – it never trades off between verse and refrain – then after putting the song to bed (or so you think), the song reprises with a cacophony of sound from the same opening song, but it’s all jumbled up in a new way. This tribal outro is similar to what fellow Aussies Tame Impala do night after night on stage – yet Jagwar Ma have the intestinal fortitude to incorporate it into the the first cut of their first album. The premiere track signifies the unconventional, groundbreaking music that is to come.

“Man I Need” is as close as Howlin gets to pop music, as it doesn’t break into extended dance territory and it’s terribly hooky, especially when you consider the Kings of Leon-esque howls. Two other stand-out jams on this LP that must be heard are “The Throw” and “Exercise”.

Album Lowlight: The record ends with a couple mellow tracks in “Did You Have To” and “Backwards Berlin” – and even though they lowered the tempo, the tracks are still infused with psychedelic sounds. My only harp here is Jagwar Ma could have sequenced the end of the album a bit stronger by going out with a higher BPM bang. Still, the mellow final track “Backwards Berlin” mirrors the looping nature and lyrical content of the opening track “What Love”, bookending this excellent record.

Takeaway: Jagwar Ma have created one of the most successful first albums any new act has released this year. Fans of Tame Impala, the Stone Roses, Cut Copy and Django Django take notice: Howlin is a record that should be listened to immediately. Jagwar Ma’s vocal effects & guitar work are similar to Kevin Parker’s innovative treatment in Tame Impala, but even more critical to their forthcoming indie-cred success is how well they incorporate electronic dance loops into psychedelic rock – the two distinctive genres never contrast inappropriately.

Tracks on Howlin conform to conventional song structure at times, but it’s really all about the psych-dance party. It’s not until the fourth track “That Loneliness” that any kind of refrain is discernible – and even then there is fast paced clapping to spice it up. But even on this seemingly conventional cut, the Aussies build a Django-Django-like tribal beat based around repetition to create a dance song with rock sounds. San Francisco – do yourself a favor and buy tickets for their October show at Rickshaw Stop before it’s sold out.

~Mike Frash

Gold PandaHalf of Where You Live

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“We Work Nights”
“The Most Liveable City”

Album Highlights: Gold Panda’s newest album Half of Where You live takes the listener on a journey around the world with songs like “Brazil” that truly evoke the feeling that you’re at a nightclub in Sao Paulo. Songs like “Enoshima” take the listener to Japan and “The Most Liveable City”, which has bird calls throughout, sets us right in the heart of Australia. This album is a sonic soundscape to everyone’s traveling adventures.

Album Lowlight: “My Father In Hong Kong in 1961” and “S950” both just seem like transitional songs that the album could do without. I could see why the Gold Panda would want a couple songs like this on the album, but I think he could have spiced them up a bit more.

Takeaway: If you’re going on a long adventure to a faraway land that you’ve never been to before, than I highly recommend throwing on your earbuds and getting lost in this album. From the opening track of “Junk City II” to the last song “Reprise”, the listener is on a journey to the unknown, and I can’t wait to pack up my bags and have this album along for the ride.

~Pete Mauch


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