The secret about Boards Of Canada is that they aren't very good. Or rather, they've gotten so good at what they do that the question of their goodness is hardly worth addressing. Starting with 1998's Music Has The Right To Children and continuing through 2002's Geogaddi, the Scottish duo drafted an immersive electronic aesthetic marked by woozy textures, crinkly beats, and slow time-lapse transposition suggestive of the school filmstrips from which the name "Boards Of Canada" derives. It's an impressive aesthetic, to be sure—perfectly suited to those who make an occasional habit of tripping out to electronic music made dense and approachable.
The Campfire Headphase features more of the same, but it's muted by a strange sort of oppressive competence. Tracks like "Peacock Tail" and "Dayvan Cowboy" swoon through wowing bits of melodic ambient beauty, but even the best parts lack anything new or novel to add to a sound already perfected. The beats sound parched and hollow, and uniform tempos make all of Headphase rhythmically inert in a way that stands as a missed opportunity. The album is as mesmerizing as should be expected, but it's just as easy to tune out.
It turns out a better "Boards Of Canada" album was made by German producer Jan Jelinek. Ornamented with a cover image of a mossy tree with weird mushrooms growing on it, Kosmischer Pitch wanders Boards-like trails with a less yawning sense of wonder. "Universal Band Silhouette" buries a warm bit of lounge-y funk beneath layers of texture that build as if a real band lurked somewhere in the depths. That sense of evolving musicality has colored Jelinek's past records, which have been crafted around spacey jazz samples and clicky rhythms carved into active patterns. Kosmischer Pitch brings it to more dizzying fruition by rubbing against newly strange and wavering frequencies. In "Lithiummelodie 1," ghostly guitar clips echo over a sloshing backdrop that sounds like sandpaper and playground jacks tumbling through a dryer in slow motion. "Im Diskodickicht" suggests an old frazzle-haired guy playing synthesizer inside while night bugs chirp through his window. It's easy to cycle through a frenzy of images while listening to Jelinek, in part because he evokes too many too well to settle on just one.