The Besnard Lakes released their new album, The Besnard Lakes ar the Last Of The Great Thunderstorm warnings, today. It’s their sixth album but their first on the Full Time Hobby label. Listening to this album is as an experience. This is as if you have been at the edge of the cliff for a long time, and the « journey » has made you more alive that you have been before. We were lucky to talk about this album with the band’s founders. Olga Goreas(bass, vocals) and Jace Lasek(multi-instrumentalist and vocals) created The Besnard Lakes band, 20 years ago. The band name was inspired by the lake in Saskatchewan, in the west of Canada.
I have discovered this band in 2007, when they released their second album, The Besnard Lakes are The Dark Horse. The Dark Horse is their nickname on the Montreal musical scene. This album was the first one and it has been released with the American Jagjaguwar label. Then I have been to their concert in Nantes, in 2013, when they played their 4th album, Until the Excess, Impercetible UFO. Before this very last album in 2021, the fourth was my favourite, with a lot of delightful songs like 46 Satires opening the album.
The Besnard Lakes: a new label for an ambitious album
Signed with Full Time Hobby was a decisive moment for the Besnard Lakes. This label can be proud to produce many bands I follow closely, from Timber Timbre to Tunng, and of course Katie Von Schleicher, Dana Gavanski and Aidan Knight! I have asked them why they left their « old label », and Olga Goreas answered: « We parted ways with Jagjaguwar because we had reached a level where we felt we had plateaued with them. It was a mutual decision. We have been very fortunate to find a label like Full Time Hobby (and FatCat in the U.S. and Flemish Eye in Canada) who have allowed us to make the record we wanted to make. We are very lucky for sure!«
This decision (of leaving Jagjaguwar) definitely brought some cautious thoughts and doubts. Should they go on writing long – rock songs with chthonic heft and ethereal grace, songs that could last for five, ten or eighteen minutes long? How do you sell that kind of songs in the streaming age? “Who gives a shit!” the Besnard Lakes realised. Ignited by their love for each other (the founders are a couple), they just remembered how much they enjoy playing music together, with the band. That is how they have started to work on their most uncompromising and ambitious recording of their career.
This conceptual album lasts for 71 minutes. You have to listen to it as if you are embarking on a « journey« , repeated both Olga then Jace. As I have felt it from the start, Jace Lasek stressed upon a key fact: « This album is meant to be heard as a continuous whole, something not many people will actually do and we know that. But we don’t care« . The album is a double LP with 4 sides and 4 parts. Olga says « It is a concept album and we want each song to flow into the next. Each side of the album has a title (« Near Death », « Death », « After Death » and « Life ») and the songs in each of those sides correspond to those themes« .
An album with a lot of influences and tributes
Of course, the album is talking about death but it is not the same approach than the last Tunng‘s album. I wrote about this great album with Sam Genders ‘s insightful comments. Back to The Besnard Lake, their approach enlightens the darkness of death but, also, the bright side of a new life, like a rebirth after death. This new album is made of many influences. This « journey » tells, for a part, the story of the Besnard Lakes’ own odyssey but also a remembrance of the ones they lost. The three first tracks can be as one, and they pay two tributes we are going to explain.
After the nice opening title, Blackstrap, comes Raindrops, the first song disclosed last November. The duo explains that the song and the clip tell « a psychedelic flight through spirit when you are in a deep altered state of consciousness« . Olga Goreas confirms to me the song is a tribute to Mark Hollis « when I sing about the Garden of Eden spirited« . Remember that Spirit Of Eden was the fourth Talk Talk‘s album, released in 1988. Bear in mind that this first album is far from any stereotypes and any hits you may know! This Garden of Eden is all about evolution. Olga adds that « Talk Talk was a huge influence for Jace and I, we were just in shock when we heard about the death of Mark Hollis« . You can read our article published two years ago when Mark Hollis died.
The following title, Christmas Can Wait is a tribute to Jace’s father, Olga explains « when Jace talks about being bedside when his dad was dying and how he was explaining these morphine visions he was having« . Jace Lasek’s father talked about “a window” on his « blanket« , with “a carpenter inside, making intricate objects« . It’s a wonderful song that lasts for 8 minutes.
The last tribute is coming later in the album. The song Father of Times Wakes Up is a tribute to Prince « with lyrical references -Jamie Starr would steal everything that you wore- to the end guitar solo that borrows from « Purple Rain » (When doves cry) specifies Olga. Jamie Starr was a pseudo used by Prince in the first years of his career.
The Besnard Lakes are the last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings…an implicit message?
The seventh song, New Revolution, is an obvious milestone in the album, including a musical break. It comes just after Dark Side of Paradise, one of my favourite songs with dreamy atmospheric sound. They are few lyrics but the song ends on these words « What in the world are we gonna do? ». Olga unfolds their meaning « « New Revolution » coincides with « After Death » and that song is a sort of response to the question « Now what? ». We actually weren’t really sure about that song making it on the album. But I insisted because I think it’s a really positive song. I called it our « Posi-rock Song ». (Laughs)
Maybe the band can call for a new revolution, but I also wanted to know why they chose this strange album’s title which sounds like a…warning! Jace throws light on it: « When I was young, we used to have our TV programs interrupted by weather updates when there was severe weather coming. I was in awe of the power of the potential of severe weather and how it made me feel. We kind of feel like we are that antiquated technology – the last of a dying breed of album makers – hoping people will take the time to sit and listen to the entire album front to back. Everything moves so fast now. Maybe we are trying to send a warning to slow down. We might only have one life on this dying planet« .
The Besnard Lakes….a rebirth for a gracious musical continuity
The new album returns to the band’s D.N.A: it offers long songs, a complete freedom of format. Olga and Jace compose music and write the lyrics. « With a basic rule » explains Olga « whatever I sing I wrote and whatever Jace sings he wrote« . Some of its songs were old, resurrected from demos cast aside years ago. Others were literally woodshedded in the cabanon behind Lasek and Goreas’s “Rigaud Ranch” – invented and reinvented. Some of that work makes its way into the final mix: an incandescent crackle that had receded from the Besnards’ more recent output.
When we listen to the album, we can find all the ingredients of their main musical influences. Jace Lasek nicely resumes: « Spiritualized’s Lazer Guided Melodies, Bee Gees Odessa, Brian Wilson’s Smile, Roy Orbison, Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon« . Need some guidance? Lazer Guided Melodies was, in 1992, the first Spiritualized‘s album, the band founded by Jason Pierce. We saw him again, with a great pleasure, in Angers’s Levitation Festival, in 2018. Odessa is, in 1969, the Bee Gees album with one of their big hits, First Of May. Smile should have been, in 1967, the Beach Boys twelfth album. The project was abandoned then resurrected by Brian Wilson in 2004.
This is now obvious that The Besnard Lake « recipe » always works. Beyond the aforementioned influences, The Besnard Lakes stay true to themselves and their musical style. A mix of psych-rock, shoegaze, dream pop but with a drone’s dose. You can hear it in several songs. Specially in the title song, which closed the album,(more than 17′). The long final is organ drone with locked groove on vinyl!. Jace Lasek plays Welkon In De Blaak, the world’s only Hammond C3. It was modified to be connected to 4 Leslie speaker cabinets, creating a quadriphonic sound. Today, Jace Lasek synthetizes The Besnard Lakes’s musical identity with these words: « I think we are drones, warbles, noise, short waves, and harmony« .
Epilogue: Take your time with the Besnard Lakes’s musical epic!
Some grumpy people can say The Besnard Lakes don’t change over the years. But is this really a problem? I particularly like Jace answer when I talked about this 20 year period. « My friend Steve from Light Conductor (Steve Ramsay and Jace have their own band, Light Conductor, they have released, in 2019, the electronic album Sequence One) calls us the AC/DC of indie rock because our sound has basically stayed the same. We’ve always thought that changing your sound to suit the times was bullshit, and we wouldn’t know how to do that anyway. We only know how to do what we do. We don’t care about trends and whether people are gonna like us because we sound a certain way. Our sound comes from the heart and nowhere else« .
Then he adds, with a real humor: « Last album, we tried to make our songs a bit shorter, but that was more of a personal exercise than anything else. That’s the closest we ever got to « evolving« ! (Laughs)
Today, you have to take your time to listen to wonderful albums, to digest them. We have more time with the lockdown and curfew, let’s make the most of it to enjoy the Besnard Lakes’ album!
Only one concert in France, in 2021: Paris (Bus Palladium) on the 30th of September.