The cheekily titled The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse is the second album from this Canadian band after their debut album Volume 1 was heartlessly overlooked by all but a handful of torch-bearing critics.
To attempt to sum up their sound needs stretches of the imagination not normally reserved for describing a rock album. But then no ordinary rock album calls to mind such bizarre couplings as Julee Cruise crooning with Fleetwood Mac or Pink Floyd jamming with Roy Orbison. While there’s no doubting the swagger and sense of grandeur at play in these far-ranging, quirky and experimental excursions the question is, do they make a pretty racket, or are they pretty awful?
Too big in their influences and scope to fit in even the biggest pigeonhole imaginable, The Besnard Lakes thankfully produce music chock-full of tunes and spine-tingly loveliness not seen since The Beach Boys or more recently the sheer joy and ridiculous grandeur of The Polyphonic Spree where delight was taken in…delight. Happy music? Remember that? And how many folk can get away with warbling “They’ve got disaster on their minds” and make it sound like a good thing?
That’ll be the opener Disaster full of cooing harmonising before windmilling power chords, reverb and the furthest from ideas of disaster you could be. That’s not to say this is a happy, clappy joyfest. No sirree!
Centering around the shared vocals of husband (and main ‘Besnard’) Jace Lasek, his wife Olga Goreas and assorted other ‘Besnards’, they build skyscraping walls of harmony that threaten to topple over you and collapse under their own weight, with dreamlike echoes, ghosts of songs and reverb-drenched guitars conjuring abstract deceptions from the viewpoint of an outsider. But despite The Besnard Lakes cooing away like saints with surfboards, there are some dark, dark currents lurking amidst the sugar-coatings here. Almost every song here catalogues some reference to a war, whether metaphor, past, present, domestic or global; conflict, it appears, is never far away.
Olga takes centre stage on the Mazzy Star meets David Lynch-ian shimmer of For Agent 13 (similar to Because Tonight) for some sultry pouting against whammy bar guitar and a falsetto choir spiked with acid that goes interstellar. Following this is the epic And You Lied To Me that boasts two guitar solos – one after another in a piece of swamp-grinding rhythm that’s both downright filthy and invigorating.
The air of nostalgia hangs thick and heavy over the music here and with nods to the prog-rock of Uriah Heep and current noiseniks Godspeed You Back Emperor (of whom Sophie Trudeau appears here) in both the diverse instrumentation and the originality of arrangement that is neither imitation or without its thrills.
Devastation tries and succeeds in creating a hard-rocking orchestral chaos as walls of noise mixing choirs and power chords as the synthesized Olga intones anti-war propaganda in some apocalyptic mantra that is both hypnotic and uplifting. To emphasise this all instrumentation was doubled on this track with two bass players, three guitarists and three drummers, and crikey, doesn’t it sound like it.
Cedric’s War rolls around like a cheeky Velvet Underground clone providing some light relief after the onslaught of arpeggiated conflict and walls of sound collapsing beforehand. Its gonging reverb and echo and refrain of �Cedric, don’t fight the war’ seems like a realization has been at last been reached.
Dark horse? Damned right. My money’s on them to keep serving up the sonic thrills and stretching the possibilities you can make with noise and ears for some time to come. One to treasure.