The Besnard Lakes
The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse
lap Your Hands Say Yeah submerged their aspiring anthems in a producer’s chaos; the Arcade Fire hit Nebraska’s borders and went glum; and Menomena, well, shit, I guess they’re still just Menomena. In any case, 2007’s startin’ pretty gloomy for indie, and the Besnard Lakes are gonna make us stand in the rain a little longer. The Canadian band’s well-crafted sophomore record, The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse, can go toe-to-toe with ‘em for bleak with its flickering tales of espionage, treachery—both emotional and national—, distrust, and cultural dissolution pitched against steep sheaths of dissonance and reverb, Californipop harmonies, striking string arrangements, and gothic shoegaze touches.
Essentially a two-piece composed of husband and wife Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas, the band’s rounded out on record by Steve Raegele on guitar, Kevin Laing on drums, and Nicole Lizee, who’s responsible for the album’s string and horn sections (and, really, they couldn’t be from Canada without the aid of members of other bands, here from Stars, Godspeed/Silver Mt. Zion, and the Dears). Lasek himself is actually better known for his production work with Islands, Sunset Rubdown, Stars, and Wolf Parade, who credit him with saving Apologies to the Queen Mary from Isaac Brock. With their second record though, and first for Jagjaguwar, Lasek and crew have taken what might be lampooned as an astute block of referentialism—Beach Boys harmonies (yes, really), well-toned psychedelic guitar solos, closets full of noise and haze, and an attentive palate for the gaffes and perfect imperfections of the first-takes, basically everything that makes the indie cognoscenti salivate right now—and molded it into something softly fierce and primal. In fact, at times, its lyrical themes—all gasoline-burnt and obscure—are difficult to imagine perched atop such glowing harmonies, but the Besnard Lakes somehow turn that dichotomy to their advantage, forging intangible epics out of splinter-wired amps and codas of excess.
Typically guided by Lasek’s pinched-nerve falsetto, the Besnard Lakes tend to sound like beloved catastrophe—the way the Secret Machines always thought they sounded. “Disaster”’s violins and deep ‘60s West Coastisms meld into a chilly, desert-night crackle—Brian Wilson frying an egg to top his meatloaf, all protein. They allow most songs four or five distinct movements—from a simple break for a little static-hymnal to one of Steve Raegele’s lovingly outdated guitar solos—making everything sound absolutely gigantic, like the beatific clamor My Morning Jacket uses so well. “And You Lied to Me,” for example, makes a broken James Bond theme out of squirrelly guitar sounds and canyonesque drums, squelching odd tape noises and Raegele’s split-end solo into Lasek’s accusals: “And you lied to me / You aren’t even who you said you are.”
“Devastation” mixes gravelly stoner-guitar with the heaving of the “Fifth String Liberation Singers Choir” (their name, I assure you)—one of the more hirsute space-rock moments on the entire record—while “Rides the Rails” follows Lasek’s cryptic tale of the demise of a small town into another moment of enormity and space—a short locked-groove given out almost breakneck to Lizee’s austere string arrangements. Lasek’s shrouded words, thus, are given a sense of timelessness that just narrowly skirts the absurd (another of the band’s talents, that balance). Elsewhere, you can hear the Velvet Underground’s sludge and dandruff in the draining, fast-clock guitars of “On Bedford and Grand”—like Lou Reed in psychosexual congress with Petula Clark—and closer “Cedric’s War,” a simple anti-war hymn perched on the country stoop, shows the band’s sense of play—including a break midsong for a laugh.
By album’s end, it’s tempting to write up the Besnard Lakes as yet another Canadian stalwart, a hook you can’t possibly use anymore unless you’re spinning for Spin. And yet what the band accomplishes here has a resonance well-beyond the CaseLogics of your standard indie fans. There’s a hyperbole in the way they create their own sonic mayhem, willful in their understanding of how atmosphere and near-symphonic boilery can flush into songs you can still find a center for. You have to earn your wide-eyes with The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse; there’s little of the crude, starkly infectious songcraft of buddies the Wolf Parade. So sure, yet another band of bombast, largesse, room-sound gone cathedral, but either way the Besnard Lakes have mastered their songcraft with this psychedelic oddity, which fits all too well with other wintry early-year indie releases. Hell, it’s still February; leave spring for LCD Soundsystem.