Boards of Canada

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One of my all-time, top-five, desert-island favorite bands is the Scottish electronic music duo Boards of Canada. For over a decade, I listened to their albums while working, for inspiration. I find their music transcendent and beautiful.

I have not listened to them in over five years.

I don’t owe anyone an explanation, but the truth is that I have to get this out of my system, although I feel uneasy using this for “content”. I considered doing this as a strip, but it would be even less fun drawing it than writing about it, which I suspect is not going to be fun at all.

A strange side effect of writing the same comic strip for 23 years it that you lose all perspective of your audience’s familiarity with your previous work. I have no idea if I need to repeat things for the newcomers, but what are the odds the average visitor has read all 139 strips?

So, do I need to remind you about this thing called the Ohrwurm? That’s German for “ear worm”. It means the part of your brain wherein songs become stuck. It was a leitmotif in a few of my strips. I have an Ohrwurm so voracious I literally have to meditate to control it. There are songs stuck in my head that don’t exist in reality, because I haven’t written them yet, and I “played” them over and over so that I wouldn’t forget them before I physically notated them, and does any of this make sense to anybody?

Also in case you didn’t know, in March of 2015 there was an incident where my two closest friends were murdered a three-minute distance from our house. I’m sitting here trying to come up with excuses to discontinue this article, that’s how little I enjoy detailing the experience. I know I’ve spoken about it before, if you want the details, see the interview in the sidebar.

Anyway, there was a period of several hours where I didn’t know whether my friends were alive or dead, and I kept calling their phones, over and over, unable to sleep, hoping one of them would pick up and tell me that what I’d heard was an error, somebody got the details wrong, they’re fine, they’re about to walk in the door, it was all a mistake.

No one picked up. Eventually I received confirmation that they were in fact dead. This is why I hate March. I beware the Ides of March like a motherfucker. This is how I deal with shit, I make jokes.

But for that agonizing period of hours, as the lead weight of what had happened was lowering onto me, as I hoped in vain that my friends would still be alive, prayed to God and Krishna just to be on the safe side, I had the following song stuck in my head.

I can’t tell you how acutely tethered that song is to the experience; the tones that waver like nausea, the stark dirge of the bass melody, the anxious synth-stabs that bark like bad news texts. The Ohrwurm spun it in my brain for days after the trauma of the event. No matter what I heard, thought, or listened to, “June 9th” was rolling in the background, a Mobius tape-loop, never beginning nor ending, always in medias res.

It’s in my head now. I didn’t even have to listen to it again. I just linked the track without playing it. It was already in my head when I started writing this, because reliving the trauma in order to write about it cued the song right up like a champ.

None of this is Boards of Canada’s fault. This is all meant to illustrate the tremendous power inherent in music. BoC has created some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard, for example:

When I return to Boards of Canada, and I shall, odds are good I will snuggle back into The Campfire Headphase like a cozy blue blanket. Every BoC album is great. There are no bad Boards of Canada releases. I’ve never heard of anyone disliking Boards of Canada after hearing them, and if such a person existed, I would have to resist the overwhelming urge to find that person and urinate on them. I’m angry now. I don’t even know why. I’m not a well person mentally.

Agh, enough of that; how about this?

I prefer this style of music because it invites you to imagine scenarios to accompany it. It doesn’t overwhelm your thoughts; it enhances them, without the rigid distraction of words and lyrics. I am honestly unaware of better music for artistic expression. Try them for yourself, and tell me I’m wrong.

Look at that; I started listening to Boards of Canada again. I can’t hear “Chromakey Dreamcoat” and not continue with the rest of the album. It’s too damn good. And hey, you were here when it happened. How about that?

Heck, if we weren’t enjoying the same album, I wouldn’t be able to tell you the whole goofy bit I thought up years ago while hearing “Oscar See Through Red Eye”. You see, imagine you have this crummy job where you have to show up in the cold at five in the morning. You work with your friend, who picks you up at four in his truck to head to the job. It’s a long, boring drive in the dark to the middle of nowhere. “I hope Oscar got in alright,” says your friend.

“Why,” you ask, “what happened with Oscar?” Oscar is the foreman at the job; a tough, stout man of few words and indeterminate lineage. In some light he almost looked Native American. Most folks took him for Mexican, but he spoke no Spanish. In the time you’ve had this shitty job, you’ve probably heard fewer than six words out of Oscar.

“He won’t say,” your friend replies as he begins to slowly wind the truck up the long, muddy driveway of the job site. Dawn breaks, almost apprehensively, in a sickly jaundice at the horizon. “Last Friday after work he mumbled something that sounded like he was going to have to confront his sister’s boyfriend for cheating on her. If I understood him correctly.”

“Oscar has a sister?”

“He does apparently, and he cares greatly for her.”

Finally you arrive at the gate. You roll down your window, and suddenly out of the darkness appears Oscar. He stands motionless and sniffles, eyes bloodshot; in fact, his left eye appears filled with blood. It’s unclear if his face has been in a recent fight, or if it always looks that way. He seems to be operating on some basic motor level. He couldn’t reek more of cheap coffee if he took a bath in it.

At last Oscar opens his mouth, and a muhh sound tumbles out, either a confirmation of his being alive, or the exiting of his final breath. He has yet to blink.

“Jesus God almighty, Oscar,” your friend intones calmly, leaning over you to better look into the foreman’s eyes. “What the hell happened? Can you see alright?”

In a voice like a backed-up sink, as the following music begins to play, Oscar gravely replies,

Get something nice to wear. Next strip’s the last. 139 strips and 19 years; not too shabby. Remember what ol’ Berkeley Breathed said, eternal as a ripe melon and all that. Nothing gold can stay, ave atque vale, snowballs have flown their arcs. The next phase of the journey begins.

Under the paving stones, the beach. See you in February.

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