For the uninitiated, Boards of Canada are masters of experimental, ambient, chilled-out, and often introspective electronic music.
Combining bleakness with beauty, dread with nostalgia, and restlessness with fulfillment, the elusive Scottish duo of Boards of Canada has been crafting enchanting sonic landscapes with their collection of analogue synths and tape machines for decades.
Along their journey, they have influenced countless artists and changed the face of electronic music along with many of their contemporaries on Warp Records. This was achieved while almost never showing their faces or speaking for interviews, and rarely performing live.
The mystique behind their personas only adds to that of their music, as people ponder the meanings and secrets behind the sounds, samples, and artistic choices.
As artists popular with audiophiles around the world, we thought it would be fitting to run through some of the best Boards of Canada tracks to test your hi-fi system.
Everything You Do is a Balloon (Hi Scores)
The quintessential Boards of Canada track, if you ask us.
Opening with a gentle, crackly, warbly piano intro, it lulls you into a sense of serenity and nostalgia that is characteristic of the duo’s sound.
Following the dreamlike intro, the drums enter along with synth-string pads that resonate throughout, providing a nice dynamic contrast with the first 90 seconds.
With every drum fill, a new element such as an open hi-hat enters. The pads invoke feelings of longing, nostalgia, or perhaps deep reflection. As the filter of the pad opens and closes subtly, you can almost feel the fuzzy, tactile edge poke through the speakers.
It’s a very full track that covers a broad soundscape, with crisp, snappy drums and warm, haunting synths filling out the entire spectrum of frequencies.
Turquoise Hexagon Sun (Hi Scores)
Turquoise Hexagon Sun is a far more stripped-back and meditative track when compared with many others produced by the duo.
The track opens with a full, rich electric-piano-style sound that sets a relaxed mood. This part serves as the hook, departing and re-entering at stages throughout the track. It’s a very wide, warm tone, great for testing how well your system can portray midrange frequencies in lead parts.
The drums are shuffling and snappy, with a kick drum that booms like a sub-bass synth. This is all tied together with elements of vinyl crackle and samples of conversations and background noise in typical 'Boards' fashion.
It’s a mellow, relaxing track that tests out how well your system can keep the bass tight and the mids warm, in particular.
Telephasic Workshop (Music Has The Right To Children)
When listening through the Music Has the Right to Children LP, this is the first song in the tracklist that really seems to push a system.
The pounding kick drum, which comes in at around 30 seconds, is the loudest element played up to that point on the album and really snaps you back to reality if you aren’t prepared for it.
The high-pitched synth sounds that double up on every other snare also poke out on the right side of the soundstage quite a lot; they, along with the kick drum, provide both low and high dynamic tests for your speakers.
In terms of testing out your system’s dynamic range and ability to handle sudden changes in volume or timbre, this is a good one.
Roybgiv (Music Has The Right To Children)
Probably one of Boards of Canada’s most well-known songs, Roybgiv (Red, Orange, Yellow, Blue, Green, Indigo, Violet, if you hadn’t noticed) opens with a huge roaring synth bass sound that surely goes down in history as one of the best ever.
This synth alone is a great tester for your system. It is wide, weighty, and covers a lot of the frequency spectrum. It also comes in right at the start of the track, which is nice for testing purposes.
Despite the heft and width of the synth bass, the more beautiful and whimsical lead sounds and samples manage to glimmer and flutter elegantly around the remaining space, another brilliant example of the duo’s ability to meld more abrasive drums and bass with pristine leads.
Olson (Music Has The Right To Children)
As a short 92-second interlude sandwiched between two longer tracks, you might assume that Olson would be a track that would get glossed over. Instead, it has become a fan favourite over the years and has received a number of remixes and reworkings.
Comprising only two or three elements throughout, Olson manages to pack an emotive punch. It comes in with a huge swirling synth pad which has a pulsating low end and a snarling upper-midrange that opens up as the track progresses. A serene woodwind-esque synth sound plays the melody over the top which whistles through nicely.
It is equal parts beauty and chaos, and will test how well your system can project that rumbling low end of the pad, in particular.
In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country (In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country)
As Boards of Canada entered the 2000s, a host of cryptic vocal samples related to more ominous topics started to appear.
Juxtaposing with the beauty and introspective sounds of the music, these mysterious quotes create a strange and unnerving experience, especially when paired with the samples of children laughing that often frequent Boards of Canada tracks.
It’s a fairly simplistic composition, compared with some of their more chaotic and layered tracks. The main test your system will face here will be clearly separating the gentle synth pads that create the warm bed of the song.
Another element to pay attention to would be when reverb is added to the vocal sample in the break and how certain frequencies start to build up and swirl around the soundscape.
Julie and Candy (Geogaddi)
Geogaddi is definitely the strangest Boards of Canada album overall, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t also have its moments of beauty to balance out the more experimental or ‘out there’ tracks.
Meshing nostalgic, heartfelt synths with a squelchy, crackly beat, Julie and Candy sounds as if it incorporates the melodic sense of a kid’s TV theme tune or a nursery rhyme at times while retaining the strange, uncertain feeling most Boards of Canada songs have lurking beneath the surface.
The snare is softer than many other Board of Canada songs, while the bass is full and the pads create the usual warm soft underbelly you would expect. It’s an enjoyable ride with plenty of dynamics and textural complexity to test what your system is made of.
Continuing the theme of darkly tinged vocal samples, 1969 features another one in the hook, this time a slightly more direct nod than In A Beautiful Place…
Warbling, unsettling chord progressions set the uncertain, woozy tone right from the get-go. This is then joined by a chirping percussive element and a pure droning bassline, giving your system a thorough workout across the frequency spectrum.
There is some nice layering to the drums and percussion included in this track, it’s a good track for testing how well your system can represent that detail. Beyond the usual thumping kick and snappy snare, there are crackly, crunchy elements that provide some nice texture and width, as well.
Dayvan Cowboy (The Campfire Headphase)
Board of Canada’s third album, The Campfire Headphase, saw the duo craft more accessible and potentially less challenging music, this time opting to feature bright, jangly guitar chords alongside their usual synth magic.
Dayvan Cowboy feels big, bold, jubilant, and celebratory. It is perhaps the closest to a traditional single the group has ever come (probably why it was the first track they made an official video for).
Whereas other tracks sway between joy and despair, Dayvan Cowboy commits to positivity, to breaking through whatever obstacle lies ahead.
And it doesn’t rush either. After just over two minutes of sizzling, fuzzy pads, and tambourine-type percussion, the bold tremolo guitar chords enter. The mids and low-end in the chords are very present, juxtaposing the fluttering, lighter elements heard in the intro.
Panned and constantly moving around the soundstage is an active and exciting combination of guitar chords, clean synth melodies, and loud splashy cymbals, all building in reverberation as the track progresses.
Left Side Drive (Trans Canada Highway)
2006’s Trans Canada Highway was a curious release, looking like little more than a vehicle to re-release Dayvan Cowboy, which came out the previous year.
One gem to come out of the EP, however, was Left Side Drive, a floating dream of a track, resting gently over a typically crackly beat. There are some nice panned stereo elements to the beat such as the tabla-esque percussive hits off to the right of the soundstage.
The bass is deep on this one, and stays out of the midrange for the most part, isolating itself to rumbling beneath the rest of the music. The thick, phased synth line that comes in during the outro is big and bold and will test how well your system can project a meaty midrange.
Palace Posy (Tomorrow’s Harvest)
It’s been 10 years since Boards of Canada last surfaced with a release. At the time back in 2013, it felt like fans had just endured their longest wait with around seven years passing between Trans Canada Highway and Tomorrow’s Harvest. Little did we know, the waiting had only begun…
Palace Posy is an interesting track sitting near the middle of the album. Bouncy and rhythmic, it features a very resonant and rich bass sound. The rhythm has a war-drum-type feel to it and is very much on-the-beat, with the key parts sounding defined and purposeful alongside subtler elements to listen out for throughout.
A suitably low sub-blast accompanies some of the kick drum hits, which is a great element for testing out whether your system can produce frequencies that low, let alone in a sophisticated and enjoyable manner.