As with the recent secretive, supremely hyped release of Random Access Memories by fellow electronica legends Daft Punk, long-time ambient innovators Boards Of Canada took clandestine and cryptic marketing to new lengths for Tomorrow’s Harvest, their first full-length record in eight years. With anonymous samples covertly unveiled upon unsuspecting crowds, hidden codes as part of an “alternate reality” scavenger hunt, wordless advertisements on the Cartoon Network, and a listening party in the middle of the California desert, the album’s promotion almost requires it to be an instant milestone, a second coming that redefines the genre. Fervor of the fan base aside, Tomorrow’s Harvest falls short of those expectations. Defined by its dark, intense tone, the record is certainly a different direction for brothers Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin, but the expertly crafted aesthetic doesn’t fully compensate for its underdeveloped structure.
Rumored to depict a barren, climate-changed dystopian future—and given the cover artwork, publicity campaign, and song titles, that’s not a bad guess—Tomorrow’s Harvest is easily the Scottish duo’s most ghostly, bleak effort to date. With the eerie, windswept “Gemini” and the airy, desolate “White Cyclosa,” the record comes off like a soundtrack to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road; its tracks wander and drift in a survey of lifeless, unwelcome territory. Even where the pair adds beats (overall, the drum-machine programming is arguably the band’s best), cuts such as “Sick Times” use a cool trip-hop vibe mostly as a base for overlays of whispered, fluttering synths and psychedelic effects.
Aside from these unsettling textures, what is intended to set Tomorrow’s Harvest apart is its knotty complexity: “Jacquard Causeway,” for example, piles synths and swells of quiet noise atop a plodding, pulsing bass, much like the throbbing “Transmisiones Ferox” and its cycles of wobbling dissonance. Unfortunately, the trade-off is identifiable melodies, which—at least before their last effort, 2005’s The Campfire Headphase—the two used to meticulously construct but here no longer seem to want to be bothered. Where marked by touches of dubstep, techno, and looped rhythms, songs such as “Palace Posy” contain a sonic framework to guide the listener through the atmospheric disorder. Elsewhere, however, the hopeless mood takes priority over any purposeful sense of direction, making Tomorrow’s Harvest a shadowy wasteland where only the group’s devoted cult of diehards will care to spend much time.