It used to be easier to pretend that an album was its own perfectly self-contained artifact. The great records certainly feel that way. But albums are more permeable than solid, their motivations, executions and inspirations informed by, and often stolen from, their peers and forbearers. It all sounds awfully formal, but it’s not. It’s the very nature of music — of art, even. The Six Degrees features examine the relationships between classic records and five other albums we’ve deemed related in some way. In some cases these connections are obvious, in others they are tenuous. But, most important to you, all of the records are highly, highly recommended.
Let's say Stanley Kubrick was still around. And he decided to make an apocalyptic movie full of barren landscapes and deserted cities that were decimated by…something. It doesn't really matter whether it was disease, nuclear war or a flesh-eating virus. What matters is what's left, and how to deal with a new world order you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy.
End scene. And enter the first Boards of Canada full-length in almost eight years: Tomorrow's Harvest, a drowsy waking dream that's one alternate universe away from being a chilly Kubrick soundtrack. It's cut from the same analog cloth as Wendy Carlos's work on A Clockwork Orange. Only in this case, "a bit of the old ultra-violence" isn't paired with nightmarish Beethoven nods. It's expressed through polyphonic synths, muddled counter-melodies, scrambled vocal samples and sluggish beats from the great beyond.
If that description sounds like it could apply to any of the Scottish duo's last three albums, well, that's because Tomorrow's Harvest isn't much of a departure for one of ambient music's leading cult acts. It's exactly what we've all waited for instead — a confident, carefully developed record that maintains a very specific mood for 62 minutes, from its ominous "We interrupt this broadcast" intro to its unsettling climax (the sustained chords and suffocated strings of "Semena Mertvykh" are a blatant reminder that things will not, in fact, be okay). This shouldn't be a surprise, what with apocalyptic song titles like "Reach For the Dead," "Sick Times" and "Come to Dust," and yet Marcus Eoin and Mike Sandison still manage to keep us on the edge of our seats throughout. No wonder why the LP's audio-only YouTube premiere lacked its sun-scorched visuals; songs this evocative don't need any.
The Creeptastic Film Cues
As tight-lipped as Boards of Canada are about the carefully developed concepts and muffled subliminal messages that make their music so infinitely rewarding, producer Mike Sandison admitted one thing in a Guardian interview recently: "There's a deliberate VHS video-nasty element through [Tomorrow's Harvest]…we're very much into grim '70s and '80s movie soundtracks." Berberian Sound Studio isn't a literal film score; its manic bumper music, forest-dwelling field recordings and seemingly random screams are actually the sonic building blocks of the imaginary giallo flick that drives Berberian Sound Studio's main character (played by Toby Jones in the same year he tellingly portrayed Alfred Hitchcock) to the brink of madness. Got all that? Music doesn't get any more meta than this.
The BFI Beats & Radiophonic References
Graphic designer/Ghost Box co-founder Julian House helped Broadcast produce their last record with singer Trish Keenan: Broadcast & The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age, a defiant, decidedly strange detour into library music, hauntology and decade-spanning BBC samples that's as difficult to crack as Boards of Canada's own cryptic loops. As it turns out, House's first solo album in six years (The Elektrik Karousel) is just as jumbled and joyous, an effort that's out to upset your equilibrium and maintain Ghost Box's dominance in this rarified realm. Art and music wise, we wouldn't be surprised if Boards of Canada own all of the label's highly stylized releases.
The Godfathers of Giallo Music
The critics that keep drawing comparisons between the new Boards of Canada album and the renaissance man records of director/synth cadet John Carpenter (Halloween, The Fog, Escape From New York) are merely scratching the surface of the former's thinly veiled homages to sepia-toned horror scores. While many of the reissues in Death Waltz's growing catalog — folks like Fabio Frizzi, Giuliano Sorgini and Carpenter's main golden age collaborator, Alan Howarth — would also make sense, you can't even begin to understand the scope of this very specific subgenre without diving into the pagan-friendly prog of Goblin. Their funhouse hooks are as crucial to Dario Argento's visionary features (Suspiria, Profondo Rosso) as his psychedelic lighting schemes.
The Doomsday Scenario
Anyone who digs the damning life decisions of The Walking Dead — a subversive zombie apocalypse narrative that makes human nature look as ugly as its makeup-caked actors — but despises its half-baked dialogue should consider a crash course in French and the cult TV series Les Revenants. One of the most refreshing takes on reanimated pulse rates in recent years, it examines what happens when the dearly departed (and in some cases, not so dear) suddenly return and try to resume their lives as if that whole rotting corpse thing never happened. Matching the show's subtle menace perfectly is Mogwai's score, a slow-burner that's driven by skin-crawling strings, meditative piano melodies and the resounding sense that restraint is often scarier than screeching guitars will ever be. (Further evidence of that fact: the wide open spaces and beat-less suites that dot Tomorrow's Harvest.)
The Authority on All Things Ambient
Rather than pretend that their sprawling back catalog — we're talking more than 200 titles here, many of which are a little too new-agey — is worth spending a week exploring, The Virgin Years zeroes in on the widely accepted peak of Tangerine Dream's greatness. Now, you can do two things with this information: sink into a deep depression over the fact that said peak happened nearly 40 years ago, or bask in the analog bath of Moog's earliest adopters on such timeless LPs as Phaedra and Rubycon. Letting these lengthy pieces unfurl is like enrolling in a master class of space-age synth sculptures, one that connects the dots between everyone from Boards of Canada to Oneohtrix Point Never so well you'll excuse the pan flutes and poorly aged film scores at today's spotty TD shows.