I believe that my liking and attachment to Boards of Canada is a very well established fact around here, so bear with me. Trans Canada Highway has puzzled me for at least 5 years and I’m starting to suspect that I’m on my way to finally making some sense about it. Of course, that is a very subjective assertion but for me making that conclusion is reaching the point where after countless hours of listening and several altered mental states it has come to this.
The first thing that might turn a couple of warning lights on is the fact that this EP starts with one of the most easily recognizable songs from the previous full length album. Keep in mind that this was during a time when I was barely starting to know Boards of Canada, and as a newcomer to this massive, elusive, bizarre and abstract catalog was making little sense to me, let alone understand Trans Canada Highway in the right context.
I’m sure that those who have already listened and are familiar with The Campfire Headphase will have a much better time with this. This isn’t a requirement of course, and this EP can be fully enjoyed by itself, but since Dayvan Cowboy was first born as one of the highlights of The Campfire Headphase, you might want to check it out if you haven’t.
Truth is however, that Trans Canada Highway feels almost like what would happen if you ask the Sandison brothers to pick a particular song and fully expand and explore it. Dayvan Cowboy was absolutely brilliant when it first appeared in 2005 and for some reason they believed that it deserved a special treatment with its very own EP, and the end result is this enigmatic and somewhat short collection of songs (it’s an EP after all).
Trans Canada Highway is not the same as The Campfire Headphase though, you never get the sensation that one is trying to emulate the other, and although they share the same initials (TCH) and also one of the brightest moments with the inclusion of Dayvan Cowboy, those similarities seem to hint about something is going on between those two. While The Campfire Headphase is described as an introspective experience, resembling the stretching of several hours into a few minutes in a way that only an acid trip does while falling asleep during a campfire, Trans Canada Highway and its more intense use of synthesizers provides a less organic-like experience, and focus on a very distinct direction.
The track titles are scattered like flashback memories from a road trip, but oddly interesting is the fact that once you get past the names, it starts to make sense, somehow your mind starts to fill in the blanks between the titles and what you are listening. Left Side Drive, Heard from Telegraph Lines or Under the Coke Sign become not just allusions to some random trip through a distant highway, they become your very own experience, one that you can reclaim as yours.
All of the above has left me thinking through the years about the amount of material that could erupt from other memorable Boards of Canada well-known tracks. But perhaps the most valuable conclusion we can make out of this is that it might appear that the duo has finally departed from the trademark sound and the structure (or lack thereof) that we’ve been listening through decades, and are moving forward to an exciting and increasingly complex new era.
Starting with The Campfire Headphase we are witnessing the beginning of a new Boards of Canada, one that seem to have evolved from the impetuous, reckless and somewhat basic in nature attitude we knew for years. Now it feels mature, self-contained and much, much richer not only sound-wise. Trans Canada Highway appears to be that confirmation, the glimpse of a door to a whole new level.
2006 seems very distant now, and while it was the last release to date by the Scottish duo, I don’t believe this will be the last time we will hear from them. In the mean time, there’s plenty of material to explore… you might just discover your new favorite place within some Boards of Canada album.