“Albatross,” the first single off The Besnard Lakes’s third album The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night, is a mixed proposition. On one hand, it capitalizes on the band’s strengths — subtly beautiful harmonies, guitar fireworks and a muscular rhythm. On the other, it’s derivative, lyrically forgettable and content to coast in one ear and out the other. Regrettably, Roaring Night is filled with these frustrating highs and lows.
The Besnard Lakes
The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night
The Besnard Lakes is yet another Canadian band with a “big” sound. With a workmanlike sense of shoegaze, Lakes’s songs mix reverb, pounding drums and guitars and pile them so thick you forget it’s the work of four musicians. Husband and wife Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas sing and write all of the songs, which occasionally take advantage of their respective powerful falsettos and characteristic phrasings. Vocally, instrumentally and production-wise it’s all there.
Then why is Roaring Night such a drag? The band’s sophomore effort, 2007’s The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse, seemed like a mission statement as much as an album. Against monstrous groups like Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene, the band was a dark-horse success. Without the bombast of the former and the spontaneity of the latter, Besnard Lakes’s Dark Horse was filled with anthemic, explosive rock, giving all the right space to their understated talents. “And You Lied to Me” pauses midsong for an excruciating few seconds of Lasek’s howl, followed by a pummeling guitar in the style of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. “Devastation” felt like the everyman’s written response to the Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up” — huge and personal without the drama.
But in the case of Roaring Night the Besnards could benefit from a little drama. Two-part opener “Like the Ocean, Like the Innocent” spills out over a bed of crashing cymbals and noise, dropping thick, crunching lead guitar over a narcotized call-and-response from Lasek and Goreas. But the clutter amounts to little: Gone are the powerful contrasts of Dark Horse as quiet moments and peaks are glossed over, obscuring the band’s strengths. For the most part, all the songs chug on a one- or two-chord pattern, matched with lyrics that could best be described as an emotional grab bag — you’ll consider the occasional discernable phrase and enjoy it, or completely ignore it amid the racket.
This is not to say Roaring Night is without its great moments. Aside from the clear highlight of the My Bloody Valentine-styled “Albatross,” “And This Is What We Call Progress” provides an up-tempo stomping ground for Lasek’s soaring vocals and some virtuosic axe play. Closer “The Lonely Moan” is an unsettlingly gauzy, creeping dirge. The record is sequenced and well performed with a great sense of pace, but it remains curiously ineffectual throughout.
In “Like the Ocean, Like the Innocent Pt. 2: The Innocent,” Lasek and Goreas harmonize pensively: “Ooh you’re like the ocean … what’s in your empty eyes?” The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night is just that: a massive, occasionally beautiful piece of work with a lot of dead space and sprawl. Without a sense of their strengths, Roaring Night is an enjoyable effort, but a sidestep for the band.
But behind that wall of sound, one has to wonder what The Besnard Lakes could be capable of in the future. What lies beyond those empty eyes?