The Besnard Lakes Psychedelic Nocturnes
Published Feb 20, 2010As critics worldwide recently lauded Montreal for its contributions to music in the first decade of the 21st century, Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas were marking their own ten-year milestone in the city. What the Saskatchewan natives found when they arrived in Montreal and formed the Besnard Lakes at the outset of the "noughties" was the ideal environment for defying all the conventions associated with Canadian rock. But while the rest of the world beat a path to Montreal in 2004 upon the release of Arcade Fire's Funeral, it took until Lasek and Goreas's second album, 2007's The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse, for the married couple to affirm their band's unique position as a bridge between the experimentation of the Constellation Records camp, and drama queens like the Dears and the Stills.
On its third album, The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night, the group push this epic sonic collision further. Bonham-esque beats fuel My Bloody Valentine waves of distortion, an assault tempered by Beach Boys-perfect harmonies. Those who discovered the band with Dark Horse will surely be prepared for all of this again. Yet, Roaring Night should also get serious attention from fans of the growing number of young bands reclaiming the dreaded "shoegaze" tag, the movement that doggedly remains the Besnard Lakes's strongest touchstone.
Lasek, who records exclusively at his own Breakglass Studio in Montreal, says the soul of the album simply reflects his relief at being back in familiar surroundings after touring in support of Dark Horse. "[Roaring Night] is the first thing we've done where anybody's actually cared about the record we're making," he says unabashedly. "It was in mind that there would be people wanting to hear this record, and I had to cleanse myself of those thoughts in order to maintain the same philosophy behind the other records. It felt like a daunting task for the first few days, but after I started feeling at home again, it came pretty quickly."
Lasek adds that the idea to build a studio was partly a response to the spontaneous way he and Goreas ― whom he lovingly refers to as Oggie ― have always preferred to work. Another crucial aspect of their routine is returning to the actual Besnard Lake in northern Saskatchewan every summer for inspiration. "It's become kind of a pilgrimage for us," Lasek says. "It wasn't a big deal getting there when we lived in Regina, but now we have to fly there and it's kind of ridiculous. At the same time we sort of feel that it has to be done, because we really miss it if we don't go. People have said, 'Why don't you find a place in northern Quebec that's the same?' But when you get attached to a place, it's hard to explain what that means. I don't think I've actually ever written anything there, but it's where I can always reflect on what we've done and what we're about to do."
Roaring Night began life like its predecessors, with Lasek and Goreas building the skeletons of the songs before calling in current core members, guitarist Richard White, drummer Kevin Laing, along with other guests to flesh things out. One difference this time does seem to be a greater emphasis on lyrics, a facet that was perhaps overshadowed on Dark Horse by its sheer wall of sound. "I think there's a lot more vocal harmony on this record," Lasek says. "I've already been thinking about getting three or four people just to do the singing live. It seems to be a natural evolution for us, on top of the fact that I still listen to a lot of Bee Gees and Brian Wilson."
Goreas agrees that improving her singing has been a priority since the release of Dark Horse. "Our time on the road did help bolster my confidence when it came to doing vocals on this album," she says. "In terms of lyrics, I've always mainly drawn from personal experiences, which is why I'm happy the song 'Albatross' turned out so well. It's actually a really old song about a guy I knew in Vancouver who kind of gave me my first introduction to playing bass."
If any track from Roaring Night could be considered a single, "Albatross" is it. With Goreas' breathy vocal floating over a melodic backing track pushed far into the red, the song is instantly memorable. That point is driven home harder by its slotted position in between some of the album's more ambitious pieces, "Like The Ocean, Like The Innocent," and "Land Of The Living Skies." Lasek says that recording "Albatross" was the natural starting point when work on Roaring Night got underway. "We finished it pretty quickly and then set it aside," he explains. "You can never tell what people are going to latch onto, but when we started sending out mixes, everyone invariably pointed to 'Albatross' as the track that stood out the most. That at least made it easy for us to pick it as the first thing we wanted people to hear from the album."
The couple's admitted love of classic pop song structure does make them less enigmatic than some might perceive them to be. Then again, at any point on Roaring Night one can hear myriad influences from the 1960s through to the '90s. Wielding such a broad sonic brush is a distinct advantage, in Lasek's view. "Basically, we're making rock music," he says. "So to be compared with music that's meant a lot to me my entire life I find quite flattering. I understand why musicians don't want to be pigeonholed, but when you have to present music to other people, there needs to be some frame of reference for them to get it. What I've grown to appreciate is how our records seem to take on a life of their own. People always compare us to pieces of music from the past we know and some things we don't know, and I'm okay with that."
In more general terms, Lasek feels this open-minded approach is something many Montreal musicians share, and it's what has ultimately kept the scene healthy and vibrant. "It might be a product of the times, but there has never been a specific sound here," he says. "If anything, the sound was risk and experimentation, and that's something the bigwigs who tried to take over couldn't grasp. You can't invest in something that dangerous."