Canadian four-piece The Besnard Lakes have never been much of a band for announcing their presence with a big old guitar riff and a statement of intent. Their music has always been insidious and stealthy; it emerges almost imperceptibly from a blanket of silence and creeps into your ear canals like a burglar in the night.
On their fourth album, the splendidly-named Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO, the two-time Polaris Prize nominees have changed very little about this blueprint: the result is just under 50 minutes of their signature atmospheric, uplifting drone-pop.
The Besnard Lakes almost fit into the tradition of gentle, non-confrontational and yet vaguely left-field indie pop that’s emerged in Canada over the past decade or so: the likes of Toronto’s Broken Social Scene, Vancouver’s The New Pornographers and fellow denizens of Montreal Arcade Fire. Almost, but not quite. There’s a droning, hypnotic element to The Besnard Lakes’ music that’s more akin to the British shoegazing tradition – from the delicately menacing wash of sound created by early ’90s bands such as Ride and Slowdive to their present-day disciples The Horrors and TOY. Pressure builds and releases, the band’s various instruments and voices emerging from and then retreating back into a primeval but beautiful wall of noise.
Beauty, it seems, is a core constituent of The Besnard Lakes’ philosophy: everything about Until In Excess… is beautiful, from the blurred blue and green landscape painting that serves as its cover art to the ice-cool vocal harmonies of Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas, the husband-and-wife team that makes up the nucleus of the band. Every moment of heaviness or distortion on the record is carefully calculated to highlight the fragile beauty elsewhere. On lead single People Of The Sticks, to take an example, a clear, ringing guitar line breaks out of the song’s introductory cocoon of grumbling, distorted noise and it’s like the sun coming out from behind a cloud; following track A Specter’s mournful piano swells and muted staccato guitar arpeggios build and build, and then dissolve into contrasting distorted layers of swirling guitar. When the relatively heavy, chugging outro of At Midnight is followed by the cold, bell-like synths of Catalina, the latter song’s cavernous, hollow sound comes as an oasis of calm after the former’s repetitive, claustrophobic guitar pounding.
Lasek, Goreas et al have always been more about creating an immersive atmosphere than a set of hummable, radio-friendly hits: none of the eight songs on Until In Excess… are under five minutes long, giving Besnard Lakes the space they need to fully explore their unearthly sonic dreamscapes. Each song fades into being one element at a time, the layers of sound gradually settling into place to form a perfect whole that is then methodically dismantled until silence falls once again.
It has to be said that there’s not exactly an array of different musical ideas on this album. Euphoric, drawn-out synth sounds underpin airy vocal harmonies and guitar lines that can be as delicate as lace one moment, a whirling maelstrom of fuzz the next. A restrained rhythm section, all warm-toned bass and soft cymbals, keeps it all rolling along at a sedate pace that allows the listener to properly take it all in. This is the formula and it’s rarely deviated from: The Besnard Lakes have found their sound and they’re sticking to it, from album to album and from song to song. So yes, there’s a distinct absence of envelope-pushing on Until In Excess… – but frankly, when the result is this beautiful, who can really bring themselves to care?