November 26th, 2011
by Adam Bambury
The Besnard Lakes probably have an amazing record collection. Shelves of 70s soft-rock rarities, obscure progressive concept albums and original copies of out of press early 90s shoegaze classics.
It’s in their sound: an ambitious, widescreen, cavernous rush of knowing prog poise and laid back west-coast fuzzed guitar soloing coupled with a knack for a catchy pop melody. They obviously know where they came from – but do they know where they’re going?
Looming frontman Jace Lasek certainly doesn’t attempt to hide his influences. He appears like some kind of 3D hologram projected from the 70s, a transmission from the Electric Light Orchestra’s orbiting space station, face obscured by huge orange tinted aviators and painstakingly realised fluffy blonde mullet/feather cut.
Any brief amusement at his unashamed retro stylings subsides when he opens his mouth and unleashes his haunting vocals, which range from cryptic soulful repetitions to a soaring falsetto.
His wife, Olga Goreas, provides the subtle yin to his exuberant yang. Dressed in black her deft bass manipulations create a muscular launchpad for the two guitar virtuosos to lift off from.
While her voice may have slightly less range, it is no less full of character. It sounds crystal clear on the Brighton Ballroom’s surprisingly good sound system (a perk which makes up for the fact the swanky venue only serves beer in teeny bottles which cost nearly £4 a pop).
When they sing together, trading lines and rising in staggered unison, their haunting harmonies evoke Low or fuzzy memories of the Beach Boys. They resonate amid the atmospheric builds and fills that characterise the long songs, all warm organ washes and subtle pulsing punctuation. Invariably the music then swells and takes flight, building into fist-punching melodic riff workouts.
Over time this epic build, euphoric release, drowsy ebb and flow becomes a bit tiresome. Attention dissipates, briefly gripping on to waves of melody in the shifting pool of sound before they disappear and are replaced by something similar, though slightly different.
But when the waves swell and the storm finally hits, it’s enough to shock this drifting listener back into the room, to witness moments of beauty or sheer rock and roll pyrotechnics.
The encore pulls it all together. ‘Any requests?’ asks Lasek hopefully. Several in the packed, older crowd shout out suggestions, and after a brief pow-wow they decide on Skyscraper Girl, a slow burner from their 2003 debut Volume 1.
As ever, the meandering intro is alternately arresting and stultifying, but when its smouldering verses burst into flame the song truly explodes, and that sometimes elusive Besnard Lakes magic is on full display.
Goreas takes the lead on the final song. Crystalline and pretty, it, for once, doesn’t outstay its welcome, ands ends in a flurry of bossa nova beats. It’s classic and novel at the same time – proof that while the Canadian band have their roots firmly in the past, their combined muso brains are more than capable of creating a sound very much their own.