Published Jan 27, 2021Pop quiz: how many of the Besnard Lakes' first five albums are double LPs? Appreciators of the Montreal outfit's maximalist psych-rock voyages may answer something like "three" or "four," which, while plausible, would be completely wrong. For all their orchestral ambition, previous efforts have never hit the 50-minute mark, managing to pack full worlds of instruments, concepts and atmosphere into a single slab of wax.
They finally give in to impulse on epic-as-it-sounds The Besnard Lakes Are the Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings, which stretches nine tracks across an 72-minute meditation on death, dying and the afterlife. It's a weighty, demanding listen, but the band's 18-year history has given them plenty of experience that helps them pull it off in classic Besnard Lakes style.
Anyone with a passing understanding of the Besnard Lakes knows what to expect by this point, and the band double down on the densely textured, mid-tempo psychedelia that has long been their trademark. Scorching guitar solos, Jace Lasek's immutable falsetto, Olga Goreas' icy vocals, synths piercing the low-end fog — all of these staples are given lots of airtime. The album's extended length lets each moment breathe, and the band make great work of the many lengthy buildups, taking their time as the tracks grow into commanding crescendos, largely delivering on their promise of surround-sound, all-systems-go payoff.
As with nearly all double LPs, it can be a trying listen. The negligible swell of "Christmas Can Wait" is the psych rock equivalent of waiting for a dubstep drop that never comes, while late-album palate cleanser "The Dark Side of Paradise" lulls with an extended outro that turns the drum loop intro of "New Revolution" into an abrupt wake-up call from an accidental nap. But the waits are most often worth it thanks to some of the band's most ebullient climaxes to date, like the multiple guitar attacks of "The Father of Time Wakes Up" and the title drop during the album's 17-minute closer, "Are the Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings." (Hearing Lasek absolutely sell such a grandiose phrase while singing at the top of the lungs is both bone-chilling and pretty hilarious, in a hair metal, so-cheesy-it's-great kind of way.)
Infusing the melodic gauntlets of Are the Dark Horse and Are the Roaring Night with the ambient strengths of Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO, Thunderstorm Warnings has many fun moments to discover over repeated listens as attention spans will inevitably drift in and out, like the Beatlesian sway of "Our Heads, Our Hearts on Fire Again," the rocketlike guitars of "Feuds with Guns," or the synth freakout on "New Revolution."
Wisely abandoning the dissonant switch-ups of 2016's A Coliseum Complex Museum, Thunderstorm Warnings takes everything the Besnard Lakes have ever done well and provides it in abundance. There's nothing here that they haven't done before, but no one else has ever come close to encroaching on the band's niche of colliding intrepid Rush and King Crimson-style prog with the atmosphere of Montreal's storied post-rock scene, so why change now? (Flemish Eye)