Trip-Hoppin' Through Your Past (The Pitchfork Perfect 10's: Part 3)

Jun 16, 2008 (Updated Jun 16, 2008)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:An excellent collection of background music. Ranks with Eno's ambient best.

Cons:Sometimes I want foreground music.

The Bottom Line: If you're interested in ambient electronica look no further. Looking for pop hits, I recommend you look elsewhere.

For a brief introduction to the series: Click Here

If at any point in your life you’ve considered yourself a music aficionado or a fan of the album as a whole, cohesive unit, it’s fairly likely that you’ve considered the “desert island album” conundrum. For the uninitiated, this simple question goes something like this: If you were stranded alone on a desert island, with virtually no hope of escape, what album(s) would you bring along with you to pass the time? Ignoring this scenario’s clear faults in logic (such as how exactly you would play the record on an island that presumably has no technology, or how you managed to find an uncharted island ala Lost), the point of the exercise is to get you thinking about what albums consistently thrill you most. In short, what music is so fascinating, so enthralling, and so deep that you could listen to it over and over again without tiring?

Now personally I’ve never quite had the chance to try out the fabled strandee’s dilemma, but before writing this I feel like I got to experience a smaller, more realistic dosage of what it really means for an album to qualify for “desert island” status. You see, I just sat through a power outage in a nearly pitch black home with nothing more to do than listen to my iPod. I figured the opportunity was the perfect time for me to continue my series on the Pitchfork Perfect 10’s. After all, each one of the albums I am covering in this series should theoretically be “desert island” material and I hoped that the power outage litmus test would help me form a decisive opinion on the next album; Boards of Canada’s Music Has The Right to Children.

The first thing I noticed in choosing Boards of Canada’s electronic stroll through our collective pasts was that no part of me actually wanted to just sit and listen to Music Has the Right to Children. I chose to entirely because I wanted to review the album. Actually listening and focusing in on the hip-hop beats and warped synthesizers became a chore pretty fast. Yes, the Scottish duo of Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin are masters of capturing genuine human emotion through detailed manipulations of soulless machines, but on a song to song basis their work is largely useless. This is most likely Music Has the Right to Children’s biggest fundamental flaw, in that its virtually wordless, lush texture is perfect for ambient background music, but terribly boring and repetitive if its individual components are all you have to focus on.

As such Music Has the Right to Children raises an interesting paradox. In one sense the album’s simultaneously heartwarming yet tension filled aesthetic practically manages to draw the ethereal unreality of a dream to life, making it an endlessly re-playable soundtrack. There is no situation I can conceive of in which Music Has the Right to Children does not perfectly fit the role of background music. I’ve exercised, studied, written, and rested while listening to this album and every time its sound fits the occasion. Whether it be the all-too-danceable drum hook of Sixtyten or the cheery rainbow blast of Roygbiv this record serves its purpose wonderfully. Honestly, lovemaking might be the only context in which the choice of this album is woefully awful and that’s mostly just because Sandison and Eoin sample warbled children’s chirps and playful yelps throughout (and let’s face it, hearing little kids cheer while you do the hurly-burly would be wildly disturbing).

So, in a way I do feel that Music Has the Right to Children is a perfect album. At the same time, though, this opinion all depends on what exactly the role of music, or at least electronic music should actually be. If we can resign ourselves to accepting Boards of Canada’s “Intelligent Dance Music” as background material, then by all means this album could not be better. Like I stated earlier, every track on this album, from the swirling, underwater collage of Aquarius to the eerie, haunted turntable of An Eagle in Your Mind, plays its role magnificently. As a whole, the album feels like a videogame or movie soundtrack just waiting for the perfect storyline to give it the completely full sense of longing and nostalgia its sonic landscapes allude to.

As I’ve already said, though, when you remove this record from the realm of the esoteric subconscious and place it firmly in your view, its flaws are numerous. Tracks are often directionless and hammer on the same beat or same melody for far too long. For example, although Rue the Whirl features enough minor deviations in its basic drum pattern to keep the song interesting from a distance, up close the track is about as boring a song as you could find.

Ultimately, this is why I can’t accept the claim that Boards of Canada have produced a perfect album here. For a specific purpose, Music Has the Right to Children could not be better designed. Unfortunately, I would like to think that a real perfect album, one actually deserving of a 10.0, is perfectly designed for all occasions. You know, an album that really could last you a desert island stay.

For the original Pitchfork review:

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