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It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than twelve years since The Besnard Lakes arrived on the music radar with Volume 1, their outrageously underrated debut album. It wasn’t until 2007’s The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse that critics started to take notice of the band’s talent. While the album received high marks from across the music spectrum, the album didn’t result in commercial success. The band would go on to release two more albums, 2010’s The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night and 2013’s Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO, which were short listed for the Polaris Music Prize. The nominations served notice that The Montreal-based quintet were among the best in their field even if the broader population wasn’t paying attention.
This may change, however, with The Besnard Lakes’ fifth album, A Coliseum Complex Museum. Museum retains the qualities that have made The Besnard Lakes a cult favorite – a celestial, psychedelic, classic rock sound combined with spine-chilling harmonies. While Museum carries forward UFO‘s ethereal leanings and the dark psychedelic sprees of Dark Horse, there is a subtle difference. On this album, The Besnard Lakes gravitate to a sound that is more anthemic. These aren’t songs made for back alley bars. They instead are intended to fill cavernous spaces with the quintet’s trademark arousing harmonies, electrifying guitar riffs, and a more profound rhythm section.
The opening track, “The Bray Road Beast”, encompasses all these varied elements. Each element is slowly incorporated as the song builds from its soft, lush beginning before exploding into a super-nova of crystalline guitars, a probing bass line, a stirring drum beat, the echoing keys, and the sublime vocals of husband and wife leads Jace Lasek and Olga Gorea. This is another dimension of The Besnard Lakes’ growth – adding new layers to create a fuller, even more expansive sound than they have in the past.
This evolution is fully realized on “Nightingale”, where strings and a xylophone are incorporated to add an eerie yet majestic quality. It’s the album’s highlight – a soaring, dazzling number. Out of all the songs in The Besnard Lakes’ catalog, this might come the closest to reaching the stratospheres of Pink Floyd.
The band, though, has always been masters at creating dramatic stories and a sense of urgency in their songs, as exhibited on “Golden Lion” and “Towers Sent Her to Sheets of Sound” (would have a great title for the album). While these two songs sound familiar with the slow building intensity, the formula is one that The Besnard Lakes have perfected and has us coming back for more. For fans of Dark Horse, “The Plain Moon” and “Tungsten 4: The Refugee” will satisfy cravings for the driving, shoegaze-infused, classic rock sound. But like with many of the songs on the album, the band changes things up towards the end on “The Plain Moon”, channeling Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie. “The Refugee”, though, is a psychedelic rocker through and through, and it finishes with a pretty great guitar solo.
The varied approach throughout Museum demonstrates a band that is slowly evolving. The Besnard Lakes continue to create psychedelic music that transports the listener to spatial heights, yet quietly they’ve added a few new tricks. Whether this yields something completely new in the future remains to be seen, but for now we’ll enjoy the trip that they have taken us. Hopefully, there will be a lot more people coming along for the ride.
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