It's too bad that this EP is usually overpriced and generally unknown because it makes for a pretty good introduction to Boards Of Canada. It doesn't have the sense of discovery that their first EP Twoism did because that was their first 'official' release and was incredibly hard to find for almost 5 years. What it does have, though, is Boards of Canada at their most ambient and languid while still, somehow, making for a concise 24 minute Cliff's Notes version of one of their albums.
Released at a nice middle distance between 1998's stunning debut Music Has The Right To Children and 2002's darker but, arguably, better Geogaddi, the In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country EP can't really be called a stepping stone release between the two. And it's also not a case of the Scottish duo (recently revealed to be brothers) clearing out the vaults. No, this is one of those rare cases where an EP stands on its own as a musical statement. All of the group's trademarks are here: the 60s/70s keyboards/samplers, obsession with dark/creepy things (most of this EP is given over to allusions to the Branch Davidians), child-like whimsy, and a healthy bedrock of ambient techno a la The Orb.
In A Beautiful Place... is, as stated earlier, Boards of Canada at their most ambient and slow moving. These four tracks still have beats and rhythms, but they are mellow and melodic more than anything else. 'Kid For Today' has a skittering beat and droning keyboards, a narcotic drip of a song that feels like it goes on for 15 minutes but never overstays its welcome. 'Amo Bishop Roden' moves from formless, ethereal chords to a true drum beat before dropping this for an ambient ending. The title track, with the oddly disturbing vocal samples of children and a Branch Davidian slogan spoken by a computer altered voice, is rightfully considered one of the best songs Boards of Canada have ever done. I originally heard this track on the very first All Tomorrow's Parties compilation and it's exactly what made me get into this group. At any rate, its minimalist drum loop, ghostly vocal samples, and synthesizer chords that sound like fog rolling in and out or maybe clouds going overheard on a really windy day...sorry. What I was trying to say was, this is a quintessential BoC song. EP closer 'Zoetrope' has an off-kilter, disintegrating keyboard loop that sounds like a remix of a science film soundtrack from the 80s about astronomy. This is BoC at their most pretty and melodic, and there's something of a child-like beauty and wonder about it, almost heartbreaking in its simple-but-effective sound.
The only real barrier to your entry of this EP should be the price. I've never seen it for cheaper than $7-8 at any store, and it's often more. Though there's a lot to love here--four tracks at 24 minutes isn't a bad meal, musically speaking--I'm not sure it's worth quite that much. However, if you grab it from iTunes or another digital music store like Amazon, it shouldn't cost you anymore than $5. iTunes even has it in the DRM-free iTunes Plus format for $3.96 as I write this. If you're a hardcore fan and simply must have a physical copy, it's good enough to justify $8 or more. The rest of us should be content with the digital copy. And content we will be: In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country is a fantastic EP and a good way to introduce others to this band's unique sound and addictive quality.