The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse

Soon we leave the sunlit uplands for some doleful Canadian pessimism, which, to be honest, we've been expecting.


The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse


Golly, this was what was written on the detachable sticker on my Besnard Lakes LP.


"Introducing the Besnard Lakes, Montrealers by way of Western Canada who make finely-honed experimental pop songs that recall the ambience of Roy Orbison or Sabolan Glitz, the vocal harmonies of the Beach Boys, the ambition of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and the eerie Lynchian setting created by the music of Julie Cruise"


Ooofph. Apparently members of Godspeed, Silver Mt Zion, Stars and the Dears all helped making this. Time to see if it lives up to the hype then.


On hearing the opening track, Disaster, what is immediately apparent is the generic nature of the music – when there are a lot of fingers in pies musically, the resultant sounds can become mere gestures; broad, ill-defined and impressionistic. It's good, but it could be a lot of bands frankly. SFA, even ELO and yes, I can see the Big O and Beach Boys comparisons. It's a pleasing mid-tempo stomp with plenty of harmonies exhorting us to do something or other that will be meaningful. For some reason it reminds me of music you get for feel-good television adverts. The following number, For Agent 13 is a beautiful Spiritualised style slowie, drifting along with no pace to go. Suddenly a guitar kicks in and everything gets seriously blissed-out. It's all very elegiac, uplifting and not really saying anything.


Soon we leave the sunlit uplands for some doleful Canadian pessimism, which, to be honest, we've been expecting. And You Lied to Me is a stop-start spy story; for once the music seems to dovetail well with the music created for it. Lots of guitars splashing around in their own noise, lots of false endings and the sonic pudding is well and truly over-egged. Devastation is another monstrous slice of pessimism; at least this track has the decency to get down and rock – albeit in a very methodical, careful way. When you have fourteen people contributing to the track in one way or another, the temptation to multi-layer everything whilst sacrificing any moments of quicksilver invention or giddy musical perversity can be very strong indeed.


Devastation (in fact this LP if I'm being honest) reminds me of one of those German tanks from the First World War, the A7V Sturmpanzerwagen. Overmanned, over-gunned, monstrous in size and ponderous in nature, it sacrificed invention and flexibility for an over reliance on defensive qualities. Elsewhere we have creepy and somewhat predictable ballads, (Because Tonight) and pretty intense slabs of miserable-ism (Rides the Rains). Besnard and Grand does raise the tempo somewhat; it does possess a cynical charm (due to the slightly ironic vocal delivery) and Cedric's War is the Beach Boys' Wouldn't it Be Nice rendered faithfully in Canadian Gothic.


So what to make of this LP? Well, to be sure, everything is deadly serious; musically everything comes across as somewhat blinkered, there's no wit, no tension. Problems are seemingly solved by increasing the volume, but throwing instruments into an arrangement doesn't really hide the staid nature of the songs themselves. The sound and the fury signifying nothing I'm afraid. Sorry, but it doesn't do it for me.


Words: Richard Foster.