Looking back, Jace Lasek sometimes thinks he should have done things differently for The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse, the second album from the Montreal collective the Besnard Lakes. When the group released the disc in 2007, it had no expectations, this being tied to the fact that its 2003 indie debut, Volume 1, went almost unnoticed among underground tastemakers.
To the surprise of Lasek and band cofounder Olga Goreas, the guitar-saturated Dark Horse became a critical smash, eventually landing on the shortlist for Canada’s Polaris Prize. The Besnard Lakes—who record for Jagjaguwar Records in America and Outside in Canada—were unprepared for the attention in more ways than one.
“With the last record, I said to the labels, ”˜We’re not even going to tour unless the record does well, because we can’t really afford to do it,’ ” Lasek says on the line from his Montreal home. “Then it did start doing well. It was out in February, but we didn’t start touring until May.”
Lasek has altered his battle plan for the Besnard Lakes’ third outing, the recently released The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night. And one gets the feeling—on this day at least—that he wonders what the hell he was thinking.
“I’m a little tired—we just got back from the U.K. and Europe last night around 5 o’clock,” he notes, actually sounding far more chipper than should rightly be expected. “So we slept in our bed for the first time in a month and got a nice long sleep. But we start our North American tour in a couple of days, so we’ve only got a brief time off here in Montreal before we go out again.”
Pausing, he says with a laugh: “I set this schedule, and it’s probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. But there was really no other choice. This time we said, ”˜Let’s just do this the way that normal bands do—try and hit it while the record is hot.’ ”
And yes, hot is as good a description as any for The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night, a record that suggests Lasek and Goreas—who are not only bandmates but also husband and wife—have little interest in making the same record twice. With a small army of collaborators adding viola, French horn, EBow, strings, and Omnichord to the mix, the multi-instrumentalist couple draws on a whole new set of reference points for the album’s 10 never-less-than-mesmerizing songs.
Lasek is a devoted vinyl collector, with most of the records he’s stockpiled coming from the experimental side of the ’60s and ’70s. Not accidentally, Roaring Night sounds of that time, with perhaps the only thing tying it to the Besnard Lakes’ past releases being the singer’s ongoing lyrical obsession with spies and spy stories. Fittingly, then, the album kicks off with what sounds like distorted radio transmissions from far-off lands, the washes of white noise eventually drowned out by a tsunami of Sunday-morning church organs. From there, the greatness comes in waves, whether it’s the strings-and-piano grandeur of “Chicago Train”, the symphonic splendour of “Light Up the Night”, or the harmony-drenched heaviosity of “Albatross”. Awe-inspiring and epic, the album will be remembered as one of the best of 2010.
For all of his ambitions on Roaring Night, the singer-guitarist-organist freely admits that Pink Floyd, the Alan Parsons Project, and the Electric Light Orchestra weren’t necessarily the kind of bands that first turned him on to the idea of playing music. Growing up in Regina, he spent a lot of time hanging out with a kid named John Sutton, who would later play bass for the Weakerthans.
“John was in punk-rock bands, and I started in one of his punk-rock bands as a singer,” Lasek says. “Then I was like ”˜Maybe I could write songs, so maybe I should buy an electric guitar.’ ”
And when he started down that path, his fellow Saskatchewan music obsessives would ensure that he aimed higher than three chords and Punk 101 sloganeering.
“It was weird in Regina,” Lasek notes. “There were only a handful of us that were, you know, skaters and punk kids. Then there was a handful of headbangers and a handful of goths. Since we were all total outcasts, we all hung out together and we all traded music. So we were trading our punk-rock music with the metalheads and other dudes who were into prog music. I’d listen to a Descendents or Minor Threat record, and then put on a Yes record right after that.”
Although you’d never know it from reading the reviews, The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night does aspire to something more than a place beside Rick Wakeman’s fabled The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The postpunk guitars on “Glass Printer” waver fantastically like the Cure before the pop years, while the desert-noir-tinted “Land of Living Skies Pt. 2: The Living Skies” plants itself in the badlands of Arizona at dusk.
But although he easily could, Lasek isn’t going to balk at the suggestion that the Besnard Lakes have done their best to revisit the golden age of prog on Roaring Night. And why should he, considering that everyone from the talking hairballs of the Mars Volta to the Danish madmen of Mew have helped turn the formerly much-maligned genre into something unapologetically hip?
“I think that it’s a fair assessment,” he says when asked about the record being labelled “prog” by four out of five reviewers. “I always hear from people that they are really quite confused on what to call it, so I think prog is easiest because it sort of encompasses a kind of wider range of styles. I never thought that Pink Floyd was prog rock, but people say it is.
“I also think that, because of the cover of the album and the way that we’ve put in part ones and part twos into the songs—which are direct references to Yes’s Tales From Topographic Oceans—that the record looks like a prog-rock record, even if you haven’t listened to it.”
The Besnard Lakes play the Media Club on Wednesday (May 5).