Boards Of Canada, the mysterious duo made up of Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin, first burst upon the scene in 1998 with their excellent debut Music Has The Right To Children. That album introduced the world to their unique sound made up of airy ambient melodies, hip-hop influenced drums, vocal samples from educational films and other strange places, and the ability to generate hard-to-define emotions.
This sound was so unique and full of potential that it was not messed with very much on their darker 2002 follow-up Geogaddi. Although Geogaddi featured some wonderful songs (including the ultra-creepy "The Devil Is In The Details" which features the voice of a woman who sounds like she's drowning), it contained too many pointless interludes and was pretentious enough to end with a song, "Magic Window," that was nothing but silence. Now, Boards Of Canada returns with their third album The Campfire Headphase. It adds tweaks to the BOC style and although there are shades of brilliance, this is an album that has the duo looking back at their own work for inspiration.
From the moment you see the cover artwork for The Campfire Headphase, you know that this album will have more in common with the duo's debut album than with their previous album. Like the cover for Music Has The Right To Children, turquoise is the prominent color here and a photo (this time of one person) is blurred beyond recognition. However, Boards Of Canada resist making a carbon copy of their debut in several ways.
The biggest difference between this album and their debut (as well as Geogaddi) is the addition of live instruments into the mix. "Chromakey Dreamcoat," the first real song on the album, is powered by a slightly out-of-key acoustic guitar sample. The acoustic guitar also figures heavily in the mellow "Satellite Anthem Icarus." The use of live instruments also leads to another way The Campfire Headphase is different from its predecessors: tighter production. This album feels more polished (and, dare I say, conventional) than BOC's other efforts. The songs are more melodic and easier to get into. The superb "Dayvan Cowboy" is a good example of this. This song builds itself for over a minute before it reveals itself. The powerful, varied percussion present on the song shows that the duo has not abandoned everything from Geogaddi. Interludes are kept to a minimum, with many of them tacked on at the end of songs. Also, The Campfire Headphase is the shortest of BOC's three albums and has less tracks than the others as well.