Review Summary: A fourth album of infuriating lows and impossible highs from the Canadian dreamers.
The more music I listen to and the more of the world I see, the more I believe in the power of the imagination and dreams as essential to the health of the human spirit. All of us have bee through periods when we feel life closing in around us with all its gritty, suffocating realism.
The Besnard Lakes have been providing an escape from reality for six years and three albums now. They deal in the world of dreams, in indistinct soundscapes that hover around the fringes of the conscious mind. At their best, Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas' hypnotic boy/girl harmonies combine with proggy guitars to produce an ethereal drone that transcends the city limits of their native Montreal in favour of reaching for the unknowable stars.
The good news for those dreamers who dazed and dozed their ways through 'Dark Horse' and 'Roaring Night' is that this is less a revolution of a sound so much as a continued refinement. No-one who heard those records could mistake this unlikely yet beautiful mishmash of shoegaze and Beach Boy harmonies for anyone else other than the Lakes. That's obviously not a problem per se, but anyone who struggled with those first two albums will find little to change their perceptions here.
Goreas' vocals kick us off on the familiar-sounding '46 Satires'. This is typical Besnard Lakes territory: six minutes of hazy transcendence that builds into something both vast and curiously personal, as Olga whisper-sings "Stay with me" before floating away into lyrical obscurity. For those uninitiated in the often frustrating ways of the Canadian duo it could prove a challenging start. Matters don't get a whole lot easier on And Her Eyes Were Painted Gold where Lasek takes over, ramping up the progginess and slowing proceedings down to a nevertheless beautiful crawl. Stick with it if you can, though: each previous record began just as if not more sluggishly than this before exploding into life at its respective mid-point. The trick is, as in a daydream, to essentially cease thinking: let the waves of sound wash over you and their subtle power should become at least a little clearer.
Your reward for such patience comes with the double-headed knockout of 'People of the Sticks' and 'The Specter', which together rank as the most immediately satisfying songs the Lakes have yet written. The former is a widescreen homage to youthful love; Lasek and Goreas' lyrics have remained an underrated aspect of their talents, buried as they are under hails of reverb, but here they come to the fore. "Hammered we took to the street; Armed with camera caught in red lipstick lips" betrays a hitherto unrecognised talent for poetry hidden behind the twosome's epic dreamscapes. 'The Specter' meanwhile is almost indescribably good: "Can you hear me knocking"" ponders Lasek over a rumbling bassline before his voice rises on a syllable to unimaginably beautiful heights. It is, quite simply, the strangest, most strangely emotional song I have heard in a very long time.
The remaining half of the album cannot hope to and indeed does not come close to the wonder of those two tracks. If 'Specter' was the apex of the beautiful dream, the moment of deepest sleep and imagination then the final four songs are an awakening from that impossible world. 'At Midnight' finds The Besnard Lakes at their somewhat stagnant far from best, a cloggy, claggy number that never hints at hitting the heights they are capable of. 'Catalina' too is fairly forgettable: by this time we have unfortunately emerged into harsh daylight, curtains drawn and blinking away dust and fading memories of mid-album transcendence.
The Besnard lakes are a challenging proposition at the best of times. At worst, they can be downright irritating: these songs are nothing if not one-paced and often confound the ears and brain by refusing to flower into that which they promise. Stay with them, though, and for every six minutes of dreariness you will be rewarded with five of equally and appositely luminous brilliance: 'Colour Yr Lights In' begins unassumingly before growing ina typically organic manner into a vast structure of tumbling, thundering guitars. Not everyone will like this, and I can't pretend that those that do won't be occasionally annoyed by it. But there are minutes and moments here that must be heard to be believed.