Twoism – Boards of Canada (1995)

Twoism cover art
Twoism cover art

Music and technology evolved at a point where one was serving the other in exciting ways. That excitement was not always to the benefit of record companies.
Up to the early Ohs they were the gate keepers of sales and distribution. Napster made music available to anyone with enough bandwidth and patience, without the use of any record store. Napster and services like it had become the digital era’s equivalent to cassette tape trading. If you remembered the pre-smartphone practice, it was one way to share and discover new music before social media took all the fun out of it. One of those bands who likely benefited from expanded exposure from file sharing was the elusive Scottish band Boards of Canada or BOC as fans sometimes refer to them.

Through much of the ’90s the duo of Michael Sandison, Marcus Eoin (and Chris Horne on Twoism only) released a string of small or limited distribution EPs, each showing how the band’s sound rapidly evolved from contemporary influences like Aphex Twin. It was not always easy to peg a BOC song beyond the growing references to the past in the form of samples and found sounds. That of course would come later. When Twoism was recorded BOC was going through a kind of transition.

Initially released to about 100 friends and record label execs, Twoism became popular by virtue of its rareness and up to the point of its release, it was the largest collection of BOC songs available. Rare copies of the CD were going for hundreds of dollars before the success of Music Has the Right to Children prompted the band’s label to re-release it. In addition to being rare, it was interesting with a wide range of beats and spooky sounding melodies.

Typical of my backward exploration of new bands, I found BOC’s transition from a wild scrappy experimental duo to a more formulaic sound more interesting as I went backward from Music has the Right to Children. Many of the formulas that would dominate BOC songs for the next few years would get their start here, but not before the diverse nature of their influences would color their beats.

Aphex Twin must have influenced the hyper nature of “Basefree”, but the rest of the album sounds like a band trying to find its groove.  Songs lie “Sixtyniner” and “Seeya Later” became sonic templates for the kind of layered musical textures BOC would be known for. Other songs like Iced Cody are more direct in homage to the past with distorted kiddy music samples – like what you might hear from an ice cream truck. They were almost like placeholders for the found sound bites that would appear in their next release, the breakout Music Has the Right to Children.

The whole ideal of repacking the past in musical and visual elements may have also got it’s start here also. The album’s cover art suggests an episode of ’60s era Ultraman or mid ’70s Space 1999. This has become the most endearing element of BOC’s music.

Although they have regular releases, there is still quite a bit of material that floats around without any official distribution channels. That makes the discovery of new old material an exciting possibility as BOC’s full catalogue of EPs remains elusive to me even in this age of download whatever you want whenever you want.

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