It may not come as a surprise that Black Sabbath’s new comeback album debuted atop the Billboard music charts, but it should. Despite the band’s legendary status and killer discography, 13 marks the first-ever #1 album in the band’s 40-plus year history. Even though it’s not a complete original line-up—drummer Bill Ward left the band in the early stages of the reunion—it’s their first with Ozzy Osbourne since 1978’s Never Say Die! Original guitarist Tommy Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler round out the rest of the get-together, with Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk handling the sticks in the absence of Ward. Reunion albums, especially from bands with so many years behind them, almost never recapture the original magic that made those bands so revered. And while I’m not suggesting 13 sits alongside Paranoid and Master of Reality as an all-time classic, it truly turned out better than I think anyone could have imagined. Super producer Rick Rubin kept the band focused, and knew exactly where to push them to get at least a glimmer of that classic sound from a band whose members are all in their mid-60s.
With just eight tracks running almost an hour long, 13 revisits the complex style and structures of their older material, with more than half the songs clocking in at more than eight minutes long. The subject matter remains what you would expect from Black Sabbath—and they made that clear with their statement of the lead single, “God Is Dead?” Musically, outside of the album’s one ballad,“Zeitgeist,” 13 is heavier than an anvil dropped in a tar pit. Iommi is on fire here, trudging through riffs while Ozzy barks through the noise. And Wilk fills in for Ward quite admirably, forming a tight and on-point rhythm section with Butler. It’s not the best Black Sabbath album by a long shot, but I defy you to find any huge Sabbath fan who isn’t gleefully blasting 13 from their cars all summer.
Boards of Canada
Since their inception in the late ’80s, Boards of Canada have always been purposefully and meticulously mysterious and secretive. They rarely advertise, seldom give interviews and almost never play live (approximately ten shows ever; none in the U.S.), yet they’ve accumulated an ever-growing base of hardcore devotees who salivate at even a hint of new music from the reclusive band. After nearly seven years of radio silence, 2013 has been a harvest—no pun intended—for those BoC disciples.
The first hint of new music came on Record Store Day (April 20), when a customer at a New York record store discovered a cryptic and unannounced 12-inch record that simply read “Boards of Canada” with “------/------/XXXXXX/------/------“ below it. The record contained roughly 20 seconds of music, followed by a robotic voice that read six numbers, meant to correspond with the X’s on the cover. The online community quickly realized there must be four more similar records that spell out some kind of significant number, and from there the search was on. Through an elaborate series of clues, the other sets of numbers and their orders were revealed in various ways—through radio transmissions on BBC and NPR, an ad on Adult Swim, and various hacked websites. Eventually, all of the numbers were found, and it all led to a website that required a password—all 32 numbers in correct sequential order (with copy and paste disabled)—which revealed a video that detailed the album title, artwork and release date of the new record.
After the nearly two-week build-up to the announcement of new music that sent fans into a frenzy, the actual album itself could have easily been a let down. Luckily for us, Tomorrow’s Harvest isn’t. In fact, it feels like Boards of Canada never left at all. Their hushed ambient electronica sounds more like it comes from a farm in the middle of nowhere than from a computer in a recording studio—which is exactly what they were shooting for. It has the scope of something much larger than a simple album, and a theme that hints at choices humanity has made and the course it has set for itself as a whole. The music itself is reflective, haunting and beautiful. Throw on a pair of headphones, start up Tomorrow’s Harvest, and get contemplative.
Carson O'Shoney is an experienced music reviewer who was kind enough to step in and give Ernie the week off. Neither of them have yet to grow a beard.