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The Besnard Lakes – The Besnard Lakes are the Roaring Night

on March 19, 2010, 8:00am

There’s never really a dull moment with Montreal’s The Besnard Lakes. The group, led by husband-wife duo Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas, simply knows how to build sonic space. When you’re feeling less than epic, you can count on them to take the form of a Dark Horse, stampeding into your stereo system and removing the glaze from your eyes. That’s what happened last time on 2007’s Polaris Prize nominated The Besnard Lakes are the Dark Horse.  And now, in 2010, the night roars with their latest and third epic set of harmony infused psychedelic rock. This time The Besnard Lakes are The Roaring Night, and they’re a full-maned lion.

The set starts off with the same muffled radio vocals that opened Dark Horse. This time, however, they are barely audible behind a Doppler of whirs and reverberated scratches. Once “Like the Ocean, Like the Innocent Pt. 1: The Ocean” sets the scene, we’re reacquainted with Lasek’s Mike Love-esque falsetto in “Pt. 2: The Innocent”. It’s more Floyd than it is Beach Boys, with a vocal melody that briefly recalls “Goodbye Blue Sky”, but both influences are certainly along for the ride. And as the record progresses, it becomes clear that the raucous beauty of Loveless has also seeped into the Lakes’ sound. From the get-go, the album rocks along on a sea of catchy but lethargic guitar riffs, explosive drum work, shoegazy distortion, high pitched harmonies, and pristine production. Perhaps this crisp-meets-gritty production has something to do with the band’s use of a 1968 Neve Germanium mixing console, rumored to be the same one Zeppelin used on Physical Graffiti. Even if these rumors are false, the record’s sound speaks for itself. It’s smooth at the core and rough around the edges.

With this production, almost every track builds up from low-key texture to full capacity. The Besnard lakes are a full-grown man dipping his hairy toe into the water a few times before ultimately taking the plunge. Despite their musical competence, they’re incapable of diving right in. Everything has to be in order before they pull the trigger, and when they do, it’s a perfect shot.  But lucky for us, the build-up is as fascinating as its culmination. These slow build ups pound and crash with beauty. Take, “Chicago Train”, which utilizes warm strings as a pathway for Lasek’s howl, until crunchy strums and building drums eventually make for pysch-pop perfection. Then there’s “Albatross”, which sounds like My Bloody Valentine at their softest, with Olga Goreas’ whispery voice rubbing up against a flurry of distorted strums and husband Jason Lacek’s cooing falsetto. They’ve got setting the mood down to a science, and even with that at their discretion, nothing’s feels too expected.

What’s interesting is how well the band manages to contain these build-ups and keep the album to a digestible length. Where slow-building contemporaries like Sigur Ros end up putting out film-length records, the Besnard Lakes keep things short. At around 47 minutes, the record feels a lot more epic than its length would argue. Like a short family vacation, this record provides just enough of a getaway to feel refreshed and, thankfully, not enough to make you sick of your siblings.

Though the record is cohesive in every sense, there seems to be much more of a dichotomy in the songwriting than on prior releases. In an almost Sonic Youth fashion, the songs are split between Lasek and Goreas on lead. The vocal variation makes for a slight dynamic, but it’s clear these two have been writing together for a long time.  Apparently Lasek’s tracks center on the story of a retired WWII spy turned lousy musician, while Goreas’ are more biographical in nature, but it’s pretty hard to tell what any of the songs are actually about. It’s clear that there are some decent lyrics here, but it’s hard to make them out or even pay attention to them with everything else that’s going on.

But regardless of the subject matter, this collection makes the bold case that the Besnard Lakes can take any form, so long as it aligns with their infectious blend of grandiosity. The Roaring Night is another triumph, and it lasts just long enough to want to stick around and see what happens the next morning.

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