The Besnard Lakes are a Canadian band from Montreal and this is their sixth album in 18 years. Many of the songs on the album are re-workings of songs they composed ten years ago for a film score. It’s a double vinyl album and a single CD that lasts for nearly an hour and a quarter. I can’t remember the last time that such a long album held my interest like this. It’s a stunning, glorious triumph.
Side One: Near Death
Track 1: Blackstrap. Random quiet keyboard notes convey a sense of isolation before a heavily reverbed guitar introduces a song about a man desperately trying to get a signal to call his loved one by climbing Mount Blackstrap (which is a man made mountain, built for the Canadian Winter Games in 1971). The song builds in intensity with fierce drumming and a heavenly choir before a chiming fluid guitar solo brings the song to an end.
Track 2: Raindrops. The death of Mark Hollis (of Talk Talk) in 2019 was felt deeply by the husband and wife partnership of Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas who are the core of The Besnard Lakes. Reference is made to the Talk Talk album, “Spirit Of Eden”, in the line “Garden of Eden spirited”. While Jace Lasek sings “I can feel the raindrops falling down”, his wife offers the perspective that “what you can feel is a light emotion”. The song, however, is full of deep emotion with densely layered keyboards, lovely falsetto singing and great harmonies. It’s a mid tempo masterpiece.
Track 3: Christmas Can Wait. Jace Lasek said that with the first two songs, “you’re down in the trees”, but once you get to “Christmas Can Wait”, “you can see the valley below and you’re starting to walk down”. At nearly eight minutes long, Olga Goreas felt that producing this song unlocked the complexities of the recording process to provide her with “the joy of creating something new and different”. There are long passages of ambient noise without melody that suggest a transition is taking place. Jace Lasek sings about death crawling in through his window as he says goodbye. The song was inspired by the death of his father; to relieve his suffering, he was dosed up with morphine in his final days which caused him to vividly hallucinate. Hearing about the carpenters that his father could clearly see through the windows of his blankets had a profound impact on Jace Lasek and this was the starting point for this remarkable song. Towards the end, drums break the mood and Jace Lasek’s voice and ringing guitars combine to produce moments of joy and celebration.
Side Two: Death
Track 1: Our Heads, Our Hearts On Fire Again. In 2010, The Besnard Lakes released a single from their third album, “The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night” called “Albatross”. The B side was a non-album song called “Four Long Lines”. In 2013, their fourth album, “Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO” was released and one of the songs was called “Colour Yr Lights In”. On “Our Heads, Our Hearts On Fire Again”, the chorus is “You don’t like that song of mine. From ‘Yr Lights In’ to ‘Long Lines’”. The song sounds glorious and reminds me of late Sixties Beach Boys with soaring harmonies and great production.
Track 2: Feuds With Guns. Jace Lasek has a love of spy stories and “Feuds With Guns” appears to tell the story of a showdown “on the dark side of town”. It’s another beautiful song. The phrase “psychedelic rock” implies a somewhat chaotic and tuneless style but nothing could be further from the truth. This is another song with a Beach Boys feel, provided by a falsetto voice and constantly interesting instrumentation.
Track 3: The Dark Side Of Paradise. Nearly nine minutes long, this song slows proceedings to a more reflective tempo. A love song with only 31 words, it’s dreamy, shoe gazing music at its most intense and hard hitting.
Side 3: After Death.
Track 1: New Revolution. Intense drumming and wordless vocals start this song which strikes a note of optimism in its call for carving out the future that our enormous potential can provide. “Let’s write the world in our lifetime. So much we are capable of”. The song celebrates life and the glory of living.
Track 2: The Father Of Time Wakes Up. For an album that sounds so uplifting to be inspired by death seems contradictory. The third death that affected Jace Lasek was Prince and he is referenced in the first line of this song. “Jamie Starr would reference everything you wore” uses Prince’s production pseudonym. This is a sadder song, reflecting on the impact of death on those left behind. After the urgency of “New Revelation”, this is a song that, for the first three minutes, makes very effective use of a quiet stillness before a repeated two note guitar riff brings us closer to optimism with the line “With love there is no death”.
Side 4: Life
Track 1: Last Of The Great Thunderstorm Warnings. An 18 minute song that takes up the whole of Side 4. A transition takes place during the course of the song from the desperation of the opening lyrics in which Jace Lasek feels that nobody understands him to the closing lines in which he commits himself to his lover. The anthemic quality of the music provides a life affirming accompaniment to the conclusion of the main song after seven minutes at which point over 10 minutes of keyboard droning to allow us to revert into our own world, having been captivated by theirs.
It’s a wonderful, uplifting and cathartic album.