There are a lot of predominantly instrumental albums where there is a particular track that I adore, but whose title remains a mystery to me. I think “Oh yeah, I love this one” as it plays, but don’t actually bother to look at the sleeve to see what it’s called, and since there’s no-one helpfully warbling the title at me, I never find out what it is. When you’re dealing with the likes of Aphex, Autechre and the like, it’s usually something pretty stupid anyway.
Someone mentioned “Friendly Fire” by Boards of Canada fairly recently. I looked blank. Only later I realised that it’s the last track on The Campfire Headphase, and then it all fell in to place. Marcus Eion and Michael Sandison made a huge impact with Music Has The Right To Children in 1998. It was rightly hailed as a classic, and its distressed and aged electronica proved hugely influential. By the time they released their third full length album in 2005, much of the novelty had gone, and many reviewers dismissed it as more of the same. Actually, that’s not quite true – it did get good reviews, but they weren’t anything like the epiphanous outpourings that the first record had mustered. Two years on, though, it seems clear to me that The Campfire Headphase is the duo’s finest achievement. In particular, the final twelve minutes, made up of the tracks “Tears From The Compound Eye” and “Friendly Fire”, sets a standard of quiet, melancholy electronic music that has rarely been equalled.
“Tears From The Compound Eye” has a simple sad refrain, and sounds like it’s something like a sixtieth generation copy. It has a long fade into silence, and then, almost imperceptibly, “Friendly Fire” begins, fading in slowly. It has a quiet melody like dying starlight. It sounds like a snatch of something eternal, the way it drifts in and out again – like something picked up by SETI from a distant star cluster. The fade-out is ridiculously long. At a normal setting, nothing at all can be heard after about five minutes. Crank the stereo up to full volume, and the melody is still there, softly playing behind the speaker hum.