Earlier last month, I was lucky enough to travel away from the barbarian hordes and back to my homelands of the UK, especially to my old stomping grounds of London to see some family & friends. It was a chance to get some much needs foundation works done on a rather battered psyche.
Much of my time in London, apart from bouts of shopping, drinking, and meeting friends, was spent walking and meandering around many of my old haunts in South London. One particular favourite spot is Brockwell Park. South of Brixton, and lying just east of Tulse hill, It’s not the biggest or most well-known of London’s parks, but it was my spot to take some time with my own brain, as well as spend time with the family dog, a pinhead ginger mutt named Joey.
As with all my meanderings, I often take some music with me as a form of psychogeographical divining rod. For most of that week in London i was listening to ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest,’ the new album from BOARDS OF CANADA. For many people liking BoC is akin to an intense, solitary friendship. They make music that seems to speak personally to a lot of people, activating unknown neural pathways to imagined memories & dormant feeling best kept to oneself. TI can get all a bit… claustrophobic at times.
As for me, I’ve always found BoC to be like creeping weeds. Often I’ve listened to their past albums and initially I found them to be “Um, they’re Okaaaaay, but it’s not working for me,” only for several weeks later to return to albums such as ‘Music Has The Right To Bear Children,” and ‘Geogaddi,’ in a different context, the end result being that I found my brain ensnared by their haunting, near spirit-infused music. With ‘Tomorrow´s Harvest,’ it was no different. I had listened to it a few times and naturally I liked what I was listening, Some intense, dense desert soundscapes, that were at once bleak but welcoming. But I hadn’t yet found the right moment where I could properly link up with the imagery that was being spun from of the electronica created by brothers Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin.
So it´s a Thursday lunchtime and I’m out walking again. Despite the aforementioned sun-kissed desert imagery, London is grey, cool and overcast. The chippy breeze is alas not masking the latent heat of London in June. As i enter the park at the far south corner entrance by Norwood Rd, I put the album on in my ears full blast.
The opening track, “Gemini,” greets me with the ident from an old forgotten technological company before the track’s tight, airless strings give way to chopped, screwed, rather unsettling synth drone. We are not a good place here. This is more like a portent of something bad to happen. We best move on Joey.
We walk along the Southern boundary until we reach the far south-eastern part of the park. Here, the area has been allowed to grow free. Grass and hedgerow are left uncut and have given back (Of sorts) to nature. It’s here where I decide to walk through the long grass with “Reach For The Dead.” The built in pressure of the track seems to match the rather thick humid air in the park. With the heavy kick beat creating ripples in the low-level tape noise rustling in the background, looking out onto the grass, it almost feels as if the rhythms are moving the air and the grass around me.
I take the dog through through the scrub towards the trees. But it’s during the twin tracks of “White Cyclosa,” and “Jacquard Causeway” that I notice something rather unusual, almost unsettling. As the music’s cinematic creepiness is ratcheted up a gear, I look around and find that there is no one around me in all directions. For several minutes on a Thursday lunchtime in central London it feels like I am truly alone in the world as I find i have the park to myself and the dog me for the best part of a square mile. Hmm, perhaps this is the “Apocalypse feeling” that many people have been said to experience when listening to this album.
Many reviews have noted the Dystopian aspect to ‘Tomorrows Harvest.’ top scribe Joseph Stannard, rightly points out the “Desert-bound dystopia’s of 70s sci-fi cinema such as Phase IV, Capricorn One and The Andromeda Strain,” contained within ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest.’ But where I am right now, I’m experiencing a decidedly damp, British form of dystopia. Think “Survivors” on a Sunday teatime, or the dead cityscapes of ’28 Days/Weeks Later.” In fact, as i head down the hill and North and back up towards the pond area, i half expected to turn around and find dozen of rage infested zombies running down the hill after me.
It’s not till I get to Brockwell Hall at the top of the park where I meet another human soul, also walking a dog. As I look North towards the city skyline, making out the City Of London Gherkin in the distance. with the lumbering, slightly Balladrian opening blasts of “Sick Times” in my ears, It’s safe to say that I start to find myself warming to the fantasy idea of a world-in-itself, a world that was once touched by human hands, but has now been wiped of its stain with only the legacy bricks and mortar remaining, at the mercy of natures and the elements. It appeals to my sense and longing for solitude from the world.
As we head north-east, we approach a “peace circle” or several logs circled around and under the shade of a great hanging tree, the sun begins to come out in force and I decide to take a break and sit with the dog under the tree. I experience a moment of intense calm as the positive, childlike melody of “Nothing Is Real” is looped and buffeted with looped string samples. I’m now starting to grow a bond with this album as I begin to let my brain pick apart the intricate structure and textures that Sandison & Eoin have laid in these tracks. True, they do seem simple at first listen, but with all good stories there’s just so much going on in there on many different levels. This is music that reads more like a book than as a mere soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist.
With all immersive experiences, I find that time just slowly slips away as I fall into a slightly fugue-like state watching the small of humanity move past me. It’s not until the final track “Semena Mertvykh,” that plays out like a broken, fractured coda to a sensory experience that was akin to having my brain scooped out and a windswept moor stabbed with wind turbines in my heard. The feeling of having a release from the pressures that assail you every minute of the day, to a place where mankind only has a fleeting touch on the land around them.
As we leave the park by Herne Hill, I walk with the dog to a quiet side street where i get alone for a moment. I switch the music off and quietly sob for a minute before heading home….