With this decade drawing to a close in a few months, I find myself returning to albums that never quite clicked with me, or ones that I perhaps never gave a fair shake to. Campfire Headphase is a bit of both. As Boards of Canada only release an album every few years, anticipation is always high for their next statement (exceptions being the scattered EPs, like Trans Canada Highway). Leading up to Campfire Headphase, there was talk of how now the band were using guitars more heavily than ever, causing me to expect something different than what the real result was.
It's possible the duo had been using guitars all along, but they were so heavily processed and sculpted that they were unrecognizable. Regardless, Boards of Canada keep their patented ambient techno/retro-sounding-but-modern electronic music on this album but add acoustic guitars and placid electric guitars. If you're like me, you were expecting something more akin to Loveless-style shoegazer guitar sounds, but Headphase is far more mellow and quiet. In fact, that's my biggest problem with the album: it's too mellow. Yes, past Boards of Canada releases often bordered on ambient music, but there were also invigorating melodies and experimental flourishes to keep one's attention. Even when I listen to Headphase album now with more patience and forgiveness, it still seems the sort of thing you put on to fall asleep to rather than actively listen to.
My other issue with the album is that it simply seems uninspired. Even the best songs here, such as 'Dayvan Cowboy' (which makes the best use of guitars on the album) and 'Sherbert Head' (which has a wonderfully scratchy sound, like something off a David Lynch soundtrack), can't make up for the fact that most of the album is samey, repetitive, and kind of boring. I would even go so far as to say that it comes off as oddly generic. For a group with such a distinctive sound, too much of Headphase sounds like leftovers from Geogaddi and Music Has The Right To Children, or even a band trying to sound like Boards of Canada. As those two albums are excellent, this does mean that Headphase is not out and out bad. Far be it for me to complain about "more of a good thing", but this assumes a "good thing" is still good. I think the quality slipped a bit on Headphase.
Anyway, I guess it's just that you would expect more new-ness and discovery out of Boards of Canada after they talked about focusing more on guitars, let alone taking three years to make the album. I will admit that I like Campfire Headphase more than I used to, but my lasting impression is unchanged: it sounds like more of the same, but a little different, and not as good.