‘The Besnard Lakes’ – “The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night”
It’s been a while since I’ve posted a general review about a band that I thought was making some kind of headway for 2010 – late last year, 2009 saw a drought of decent reviews due to exam-related circumstances. As University for both myself and my reviewing partner comes steadily into focus, it seems our minds are wandering; with Michael Hodder’s desktop out of action – virus or some such – we don’t know when to expect a review on his end. Hopefully we don’t have to wait too long, so until then, I’ll hold the fort in anticipation for his return…
With last week’s Gig post, I wrote a review/short-story on ‘The Mars Volta’ and their performance at Festival Hall: to much delight, the night went down well. So for more details on that eventful-evening, check it out here. I find that I’m starting to lose track of all concepts of time. Weeks, days, hours, minutes, seconds – I’m at a loss for the date without my trusty comp-clock. I know Thursday’s not the usual day for posts, but I thought that while I had the time on [I should say, slipping through] my hands, I’d take a break from all my reading and write something for a change, spread these fingers of mine out on a keyboard and put something together; for better or worse.
Hailing from Montreal, Quebec, Canada, ‘The Besnard Lakes’ mash together some of the indie/progressive/alternative/shoegaze influences that seem to have inundated North America at current. Their debut album, titled “Volume 1” in its limited-1000-copies edition, made its appearance in ‘03, and was later introduced again in ’07. Following, the release of their ‘sophomore album’: “The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse” in the same year. And I believe, unless there’s some detail I’ve overlooked, this is their second official studio album*, “The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night”. They bring the picturesque quality of Canada’s unique, influential sound into sharp focus, and are sure to impress with this stunning return:
On the whole, Highly Evolved has come to recognise Canada’s influential style over the past year, with some interesting bands and accompanying discussions; I’m lost for specifics, but they’re sure to be around here somewhere. All I can say is that Canadian bands like ‘Arcade Fire’ have set the standards higher and higher ever since their arrival on the scene, and ‘The Besnard Lakes’ combine ‘Arcade Fire’s’ uncanny compositional-standards with the elements of shoegaze and alternative. Although I commonly associate progressive–rock with such bands as ‘The Mars Volta’, ‘The Besnard Lakes’ seem to be exploring a different perspective as they take on this somewhat double-edged sword.
Band-comparison: I suppose I’ve already given you an impressive relative to go-on. ‘Arcade Fire’ is probably the best example I can give at current, because of their unique riffs. With ‘Arcade Fire’s’ highly-anticipated album-release due sometime early this year, and my respect for “Neon Bible”, I come to hold them in high regard, as does my partner. They have an innate ability to manipulate their music to such an extent where raw emotion becomes the sole driving force behind entire tracks: in case of their critically acclaimed debut, “Funeral”, I feel this is rightly so. ‘The Besnard Lakes’, in this respect, are like a sister-band, at the very least, a first or second cousin. Juxtaposition between piano and guitar, driving bass, and minimalisation of forceful percussion, share striking likeness to ‘Arcade Fire’, who also express some eloquently-strung riffs, both for guitar and bass. This works harmoniously with accompanying piano, and “Pink Floyd”-esque–synth. The simple flaunts of percussion, whether it be cymbals or otherwise, help conform crescendo and chorus alike.
A mix of male and female vocals makes for some very beautiful tracks, soy-perbly different from one and other in vocalisation, embodying the feelings of sorrow or elation in differing levels of expression. I believe – although I cannot entirely confirm – that each band member partakes in at least one or more tracks within the album [either as a solo, or as reinforcing-vocals]. A six-piece band, the husband-and-wife team of ‘Jace Lasek’ and ‘Olga Goreas’ are accompanied by ‘Kevin Laing’, ‘Steve Raegele’, ‘Nicole Lizee’ and ‘Richard White’.
Tracks themselves are intimately pieced together, different in some way from their counterparts. Although the shoegaze-synth does dominate a majority of the songs, creating some minor flow between tracks, generally they are individual, without much similarity unless otherwise purposely stated; the two opening tracks “Like The Ocean, Like The Innocent Part I: The Ocean/The Innocent”, for instance. And, need I reiterate the titles of the opening tracks, “… The Ocean” begins with helicopter-synth, darting from left to right. A moaning guitar echoes in the distance, growing in intensity as the sound of a radio/television broadcast cuts in and out of transmission. A bellowing organ shifts from note to note as we enter the realm of ‘The Besnard Lakes’. Seamlessly we move on to track two, because this lasts for the whole 1:39 of “… The Ocean” and becomes “… The Innocent”. With the arrival of piano and vocals twenty-five seconds in. 1:12 of “… The Innocent”, we see the introduction of percussion as the layers build and build. With the arrival of the lyrics:
“… Oooh, you’re like the ocean [Oooh, you’re like the ocean]… Oooh, you’re like the innocent [Oooh, you’re like the innocent]…”
The chorus appears and the nature of the song changes. With its finish, it reverts back. At 7:18, “… The Ocean” and “… The Innocent” are a gradual introduction to ‘The Besnard Lakes’. With their dual-vocalisation, this contrast between male/female vocals is a trait successfully used by ‘The XX’, not to mention ‘Arcade Fire’, and maintainins listener-interest, shaking it up enough to keep things different while at the same time pleasant.
“Chicago Train” follows on from “… The Innocent”, and we see the first usage of wind and string instrumentation, with a generous mix of violin and flute. Together with the chilling highness of its vocals, this slow-paced melodrama is hauntingly beautiful. The lyrics:
“… This is the last train to Chicago…”
In much the same way bring about a change in song, with guitar and percussion in place of violin and flute at the chorus, and standardised vocals in place of chilling highs. The riff here is absolutely fantastic, a must-listen; you’ll be air-guitaring…
I’m going to skip some tracks and jump all the way to the eighth, where I find another one of my favourites that I haven’t already discussed. Some driving percussion, western-clang! guitar [here comes Clint Eastwood…] together with solid riffs from the bass, minus the wavy-synth that has featured so prominently beforehand. Difficult to describe in words, so I’ll stop here.
“The Lonely Moan” is one of the best ‘finale’-tracks I’ve seen this year, with vocals reminiscent of Martina Topley-Bird, a sickly-sweet mix of synth, harp and Pink Floyd-esque guitar with electric organ. It is probably the mystery surrounding the vocals and the shifting synth that adds to the track’s overall ethereality, that and the floating lyrics:
“… Forgotten kisses…”
To go with the distant strum of electric guitar. A great ending for a great album, able to lull even the hardest of men and women to curl up in a ball and drift off to sleep. All in all, an album worth a listen, and a band that I will be watching in the future. If this release says anything about their début, then I expect it to be ten times as better. It has been an eye-opener, driftwood in an ocean of noise which I’ve been able to hold on to; a musical lifesaver, in this metaphoric instance. I recommend a buy, all tracks are sure to entertain, although as is to be expected, some aren’t as potent as others.
Reviewer’s Pick: “Light Up The Night”
Stand-out Tracks: “Like The Ocean, Like The Innocent Part I: The Innocent”, “Chicago Train”, “And This Is What We Call Progress”, “Light Up The Night”, “The Lonely Moan”
The Enantiomorphic God