Monday, October 16, 2006

EP Review: Trans Canada Highway by Boards Of Canada

Trans Canada Highway, the new EP from duo Boards Of Canada comes only a few months after the release of their album The Campfire Headphase. Featuring five new songs, Trans Canada Highway is a nice addition to BOC's catalog and a perfect compliment to their previous album.

The EP begins with “Dayvan Cowboy,” a track from The Campfire Headphase. It was the standout track from the album and is the perfect opening track for Trans Canada Highway. It takes a while for this song to build (about half the running time) but when it does, you're in for a rush of sounds. Guitar licks, hard-hitting drums, and synths combine to give the song a feel that's a little more muscular than other BOC songs. At the same time, though, it still keeps the airy atmosphere that signals a Boards Of Canada song. It's one of the most accessible songs I've heard from the duo but it doesn't compromise either.

“Dayvan Cowboy” is followed by “Left Side Drive,” a song that sounds more like traditional Boards Of Canada. It features the trademark combination of synths and hip-hop-esque rhythms. It doesn't really bring anything new to the table, but at the same time it doesn't have to. It's quite simply a “standard” Boards Of Canada track done well. The only thing that makes it a little different is the ending, which seems like an interlude tacked onto the end of the song.

“Heard From Telegraph Lines” is a typical Boards Of Canada interlude. In most BOC interludes, the airy synths are heard sans percussion and are sometimes accompanied by other sounds. On this particular interlude, the synths have a more organlike sound to them. Interludes like this might seem like throwaways, but they help the flow of an album. Like the slow part of an action film, they bring us down so that the next part will surprise us that much more.

“Skyliner” is one such surprise. This is the best new song on the EP, and its standout track. The synths and rhythms return here only this time, the drums are kind of stutter-step. They float all over the track and help make the song a sonic playground. They don't just drive the beat. They also become the focus as we get a nice drum buildup and crescendo a few times as well. Some techno elements are also present here and really give the song a nice sound. You can't exactly dance off a Boards Of Canada song, but the feel of “Skyliner” will make you wish you could.

“Under The Coke Sign,” another interlude, cools us off after the blistering “Skyliner.” The synths here kind of waver a bit. It sounds like they are trying to mimic the way some lighted signs kind of fade in and out when you look at them.

Now, we get to the EP's final track, the Odd Nosdam remix of “Dayvan Cowboy.” This is the most unusual song on the EP. It's divided up into three parts and is more than nine minutes long. The first part is about two minutes of ambient “noise.” It's unclear what exactly this part is supposed to represent, but the sounds will make you think of everything from highway traffic (perhaps the intended effect) to outer space.

The second part is pretty much a thoroughly deconstructed version of “Dayvan Cowboy” itself. All of the song's muscularity is stripped. The barrage of drums is pared down to a simple beat. The guitar licks, which sounded country/western-like on the original song, now sound very hard-edged and industrial. The synths are pushed a little more to the front and given a subtle, creepy makeover. Even with all the deconstruction, you can still tell that this is “Dayvan Cowboy.”

The final part of this remix takes the hard-edged, electronically coated guitar elements from the second part and spotlights them. There are little other elements to this part of the song and in a way, it acts like the EP's outro.

Trans Canada Highway is another solid piece of work from Boards Of Canada. While it is the perfect companion to The Campfire Headphase (they even share the same initials), it also stands on its own. The EP works well as a driving mix (it does have highway in the name, after all) and it's a crash course on Boards Of Canada. Trans Canada Highway is a good introduction to the duo as it features traditional BOC songs and interludes as well as some very good variations on their formula. Any Boards Of Canada fan should get this for their collection...and then promptly loan it to their friends to expose them to the BOC goodness.

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