Boards of Canada - Trans Canada Highway


23. Jul. 2006, 18:03

I just finished listening to Trans Canada Highway EP straight through. I have already heard most of the tracks through random play lists before but listening to it in "abum'" form was a little different experience. This is usually the way I prefer to listen to electonic music. Like classical music, the creators of electronic music have created relationships between the tracks and so a specific order is important. As is always the case with Boards of Canada, the titles have important and relevant meaning in the overall theme of the album, especially when trying to understand their music.

Trans Canada Highway is the name of the Canadian National Highway system, much like the Interstate freeway system here in the United States. Most Americans who have not visited Canada, probably have not heard of the Trans Canada Highway. It is not a single road, but rather a collection of roads. In fact, it is closer in comparison to the US highway system which allows for intersections and other types of crossings aloing its path. Whereas, the US Interstate freeway system is multi-laned and never has intersections or anything come in its way. Hence the difference between highway and freeway.

Anyway, back to the Boards of Canada album. As I said earlier, all of the track names have relevance to the EP title. The first track on he EP called Dayvan Cowboy conjures up images of someone riding in their full size Ford Econoliner van or GM Savana van enjoying the sights (and sounds) along the highway by day and sleeping in their van at night along side the road, perhaps even under the stars much like cowboys did in the old west, while traveling over long distances. I can picture a passenger with the window rolled down and their bare feet propped up and hanging out the window, letting the wind blow their toes.

Left Side Drive cries out for a deeper analysis. Everyone knows that the British, former British colonies, and Japan (which the British talked them into) drive on the right side of the road. Some call it the wrong side of the road. Either way it is an interesting title.

In medieval days of old, common sense said when passing another person on the road, one should be well positioned to use your sword in case you are attacked by a passerby. Obviously, most people then, much like today, are in fact right handed, therefore one would keep to their left side of the road. This practice was actually formalized in a Papal Edict by Pope Benefice circa 1300 AD who told all the pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land to keep to the left. This practice remained unchanged until 1773 when an increase in horse traffic in the UK, prompted the Parliament to enact the General Highways Act of 1773 which stipulated keeping to the left. Later in 1835 this became the law in the UK. And today they driver on the wrong, left side of the road.

What does all this have to do with Boards of Canada? Well, the vast majority of the world travels along the road on the right side of the road(left hand steering). Electronic music is not mainstream and neither is left side driving (right hand steering) especially in North America. If you have ever been crusing along on the freeway and suddenly a car with right hand steering is next to you, it comes as a bit of an odd thing to behold the driver on the wrong side. On this musical road journey that Boards of Canada is taking us on, it is about the sights and sounds and the wonders to be found in this adventure on the highway or experienced through their music. Left Side Drive is an interesting sight (or sound) to behold along the Trans Canadian Highway.

Heard From Telegraph Lines evokes thoughts of older technology, of a simpler, less complicated time in our history. A time when messages took time to travel across the continent. This is a very short track, perhaps a reference to the cost of telegraphs charging per word, resulting in most people keeping the message short and to the point. Remember, back when things were short and to the point? Or perhaps it is a message to slow down and look around you and just maybe you will see more messages in the world around you as you travel on the highway.

Skyliner is a train that operates in Japan. This may be a reference to that train or all trains, or that road travel has been replaced by air travel, hence "sky liner," or perhaps even road travel being replaced by train travel. Then again many cars have a sun roof through which the sky can be seen. I remember many years ago, sitting in the back of an old station wagon on long family trips looking up at the sky as we rumbled along the highway. Whether the reference is to the evolution of travel or a day dream evoked by watching the sky, this track manages to evoke memories of road travel. From the lull of seeing nothing but farm land and train tracks along the highway, to the excitement of finally reaching your destination.

Under the Coke Sign is to remind us of a time when the Coke ads lined such famous routes as Route 66 and became American (and Canadian) icons duing that road's heyday. Classic Coke advertisments and Route 66 are synonymous. Another example of a reflection of that earlier time in our history. But who can really say for certain what this all means? Board of Canada for one. The rest of us, well we are just making guesses.

On the whole I found the album to be interesting, which is always the case with Boards of Canada. The mainstream still lables their music "experimental." I think Boards of Canada may have been in a rush to get this out the door, in an attempt to capitalize on its popularity from Campfire Headphase. Although, historically this does not seem to be a tactic employeed by Warp Records. Also, it does seem a bit underdeveloped, perhaps missing some of the multiple layers of sound textures and samples we have become accustomed to, even by Boards of Canada's standards. This EP might be criticized for being just that, but given the snail's pace with which Boards of Canada release new material, any new tracks are welcome in my travelouge. That criticism notwithstanding, I enoyed the EP and recommend it to Boards of Canada fans and electronic genre lovers. Trans Canada Highway is worthy of your money or bandwidth.


  • BilboBaggins

    I actually pre-ordered this, the first time I have ever done so with any music, and think that it was well worth the effort of clicking around the Warp site. Nice review :)

    23. Jul. 2006, 18:45
  • EyliusEvil

    Bought this on vinyl. Really like Under the coke sign and Skyliner.

    5. Aug. 2006, 21:07
  • ineb-fuck

    wow. interesting stuff :) I actually have never analyzed BoC. I just pop one of their records in the player and chill... now you made me really want to go home and listen to them more carefully and taking note of the tracknames.

    6. Okt. 2006, 8:49
  • ajp069

    'Under The Coke Sign' for some reason really effects my emotional state - very calming!! Tracks like this make think twice about the 'subliminal' aspects of their work!

    21. Okt. 2006, 20:06
  • SfromL

    Very indepth critique of some great music. Dayvan Cowboy is probably one of my all time favourite songs, though you would not be able to tell from my play count. I think the accompanying video for it is sublime.

    15. Mai. 2008, 8:52
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