Thursday, February 22, 2007

Blame Canada....

....for producing yet another band with real vision and quality. The oddly titled 'The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse' is the second album on the wonderful Jagjaguwar label from Montreal's The Besnard Lakes, although it represents my first contact with this beguiling and fascinating band. The overall impression is of a neat combination of the languid melancholy of Low combined with the slow burning classic rock of My Morning Jacket. Throw in some inventive arrangements, Beach Boys-esque vocal harmonies and unconventional instrumentation, and you have the makings of a modern classic.

This doesn't mean it's an easy listen though. The eight songs are all lengthy and extravagant, the pace rarely gets above a gentle trot, and the lyrics are peculiarly oblique. Wisely, at just 45 minutes, the album as a whole refuses to outstay its welcome, and, once yielded to, the atmosphere is enthralling and hypnotic. There are all sorts of possible reference points - Jace Lasek's use of falsetto obviously belies the influence of Neil Young, whilst Olga Goreas' more understated, half spoken intonations resemble the contributions of Jill Birt to The Triffids.

There's an essential formula to the songs here, involving the careful development of an expansive, overwhelming texture from minimal beginnings. The band achieve this with control and finesse, and rarely, if ever, does the music descend to posturing or mock grandiosity. There's real rhythmic and melodic invention on epic tracks like 'And You Lied To Me', allied with a complete understanding of American musical tradition, occasionally drawing influence from southern rock as much as North American styles. The band also confidently master unpredictable diversions and false endings that are as entertaining as they are confounding.

The mysterious 'For Agent 13' has an alchemical quality, and with unusually direct lyrics, might be the most powerful track here ('I never meant to feel that way/To be so haunted by a touch/I play it back every day'). Yet it's the opening 'Disaster' that really stands out - oddly melancholic, yet also muscular and driving. The incorporation of strings and horns adds a majestic sheen to a song with a real sense of progression and imagination. 'Devastation' sounds like Sparklehorse in Alabama (and how much more interesting it would have been for Mark Linkous to have attempted something like this instead of the resoundingly tedious 'Dreamt For Light Years...').

This is a big behemoth of an album, but it's creative rather than indulgent, and full of passion and power. Catch the dark horse before it rides away.

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