[1 April 2013]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
The Besnard Lakes are unafraid of size. They’re like Lake Michigan, a body so large it seems borderless, oceanic, and yet there’s a remarkable calm to it. Their sound isn’t tidal, it just reminds you of its constant size and the different permutations that size can take on. The band’s past two records, are the Dark Horse and are the Roaring Night, were exercises in meshing pop control with post-rock size. They were blissful but shadowy, huge but intimate, cool but always easing towards warmth, even scorching heat.
Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO continues that trend, as founding players Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas find news way to stretch out their expansive compositions. We see glacial gliding mesh with crashing guitar crescendos. We see the dreamy but up against the nightmare-ish. We see the quiet get loud and the loud get quiet. And yet, though all these moves are familiar, they remain fresh in the steady hand of the Besnard Lakes. “46 Satires” is all atmosphere at first, Goreas’s breathy vocals floating over gauzy keys and distant percussion. The calm can’t last, though, as the song stretches out into negative space only then to fill that space with ringing guitars and transcendent backing vocals. “And Her Eyes Were Painted Gold” finds a balance between the noisy and the ethereal right up front and rides it home, building atmosphere on tangles of angelic vocal harmonies. Late in the record, “Alamogordo” gives us all these elements in their largest possible permutations. The chorus seems to have become a mob of singers. The space between chord assaults feels both interminable and comforting. The synths drift out into a distant dark, nothingness.
In all these moments, and all over the record, the Besnard Lakes move from the familiar to the disorienting. We get the lean, if moody, rock of “People of the Stick” that then opens up into cascading dream-pop, as muscled as it is porous. “At Midnight”, the most fully realized song here, is initially a kind of slowcore ode, a nod to Low and others, albeit a more maximalist take on their hush. But it deals in affecting space, until it doesn’t. Until dueling guitar slashes overwhelm us, until the vocals take on a brash edge, until you realize there’s a fury to this determined pace.
This may not make for a huge re-invention of sound for the Besnard Lakes, but they also aren’t exactly retreading old ground. If are the Roaring Night scorched the shadows of are the Dark Horse into walls with its newfound heat, the new record deals in a refinement of the band’s musical poles. Dream and blood-and-bone power don’t oppose or clash here so much as they blend with one another. You can see the moves coming, but the moves are gradual.
Still, there’s something in a title. The titles of the previous two records were tacked onto the band’s name, as if the music were a natural extension of the band itself. There was intimacy reflected in that title and conveyed in the music. Here, it’s hard to tell what the Besnard Lakes is getting at with all this sound, with that thorny title. There’s rarely a moment that isn’t beautiful, even if the ambient moments are more self-indulgent than framing, but if the album is telling a story—and it has all the interlocking parts and grandiose structures to hint it is—it’s hard to tell what that story is. It’s something about the unknown, about discovery or asking questions, but in all those raucous-yet-controlled sound, in all this sheer volume and sweeping movements, the words themselves (often awash in echo and thus drowned out by the instrumentation) get lost. It’s not that this will keep you from enjoying the record, it just might keep you from living in it the way you did (or should have) with the past two records.