boards-of-canada1[xrr rating=3.75/5]First Daft Punk, now Boards of Canada. Pre-release hype can be a killer, but it seems that electronic duos in 2013 are doing just fine building it up and then smashing it down with innovative force. With Tomorrow’s Harvest, Boards of Canada have not only quieted but ultimately transcended pure buzz based on the quality of their product, a beautiful, ambient, unmistakably Boards of Canada album. More impressively, they’ve now shed the lazy “influential” label, one that wrongly painted a picture of the band as those who inspired copycats as opposed to those who create music that’s intrinsically worthwhile.

While much of Tomorrow’s Harvest is dark enough that the duo had to publicly deny its purported post-apocalyptic thematic inspiration, the record finds a way to explore a variety of genres within the gloom. “Reach for the Dead” is one of its darkest and best tracks: it starts out ambient, eventually morphing into a grimy trip-hop beat that’s complemented by string swells and glitchy synths. On the opposite end of the composition spectrum, “White Cyclosa” begins with poppy arpeggio synths not far from something Chromatics might make, delving into ambient territory as the track progresses. And the slowed-down hip-hop beats of “Jacquard Causeway” yield a surreal track that’s uneasy and captivating. Boards of Canada’s limbo between beat music and ambient music is disquieting because it confuses and stuns you. But at the same time, constantly asking yourself whether any given song on Tomorrow’s Harvest is ambient or has a beat only makes you want to find out by breaking it down, starting and stopping, and listening again. It’s an album to dissect as much as one to let wash over you.

And yes, Tomorrow’s Harvest still contains a few strong cuts that aren’t as clouded in mystery, such as the album’s most maximal bass track, “Cold Earth,” which sports a driving beat, droney synths and chopped hype man percussive vocals to create a forceful whole that takes no prisoners. The same goes for the more serene “Sick Times,” a song that doesn’t display everything at once but slowly reveals and builds its scratchy vocal samples and aggressive beat, two elements that effectively contrast the smoothness of its drones.

Essentially, Tomorrow’s Harvest cements Boards of Canada’s aesthetic—they’ll likely not stray from their brand—but subtly adds in electronic flourishes that are prevalent in some of today’s best electronic music: running, ‘80s-inspired synths, drone piano and bass-heavy beats. While other electronic pioneers yearning to be relevant again (Mouse on Mars comes to mind) too often let trends overtake their initial mission, Boards of Canada have synthesized musical and cultural influences the same way they clearly want listeners to take in Tomorrow’s Harvest: through the seemingly impossible but simultaneous combination of osmosis and a critical eye.

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