Release Date: Jan 22, 2016
Record label: Jagjaguwar
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Packing your belongings and heading for four days drive into the wilderness with your friends is the sort of idyllic escape most cramped cityfolk lust after. But The Besnard Lakes did just that to make this album. The band recorded the demos for A Coliseum Complex Museum at Besnard Lake – an actual place _ in Saskatchewan. Reflecting on his time there in the middle of winter in a trailer he says, 'You feel like you’re the only person on earth and it really allows you to have intense contemplation without any distractions.' Evidently, naming the band after the lake implies that wilderness has been a longstanding influence on their combination of dreamy Floydian vocal melodies and introverted My Bloody Valentine-esque instrumentals.
There are five musicians in the Besnard Lakes, but it sounds like some sort of pop orchestra was on hand to record the group's fifth full-length album, 2016's A Coliseum Complex Museum. The scope of this music is vast, combining the melodic angles of indie pop with the grand scale ambitions of prog rock, and group founders Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas are determined to make the most of it, filling every nook and cranny of these songs with banks of guitars, keyboards, percussion, and massed vocals, until the music takes on the shape of a vast ship at sea, moving deliberately but with a strong sense of purpose through choppy waters in the chilly nighttime. And if that all sounds a bit much, well, that's just how the Besnard Lakes do things, and they do them well.
If you like giant orbs, the great outdoors, hanging out in museums and being told creepy, candle-lit stories of strange beasts and ghostly happenings, you’ll fit right in with The Besnard Lakes. The twelve-handed band from Montreal take their name from a collection of waters in rural Saskatchewan, and make no secret of their interest in mammoth, expansive landscapes – both sonic and geographical. Fifth album A Coliseum Complex Museum truly is colossal, and certainly complicated, but in such an un-rushed, all-encompassing way that – like with awe-inspiring natural phenomena – you feel no pressure to take it all in on the first go.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. For the final three minutes of Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO the listener hears a whirring, ambient loop - a stark contrast to the heavy stabs of guitar and synthesiser that sounded like the very cracking of the sky itself. 'Alamogordo' capped off a slower, mellower record than we were used to from The Besnard Lakes and this slow burn of a finale felt like the perfect sign-off, it was meditative - almost calming.
Some of indie rock's most notable acts have married couples at their core: The White Stripes, Yo La Tengo, Low. All of these (barring perhaps the Stripes) have a record of remarkable consistency; maybe there's something in the simultaneous pursuit of both romantic and musical bliss. Add to this tradition The Besnard Lakes. Since 2007, the Montréal rock band has released a new album every three years, each including a curious title, an artistic landscape of sorts on the cover, and a collection of dreamy and densely layered rock songs.
When husband-wife duo The Besnard Lakes bobbed to the surface in 2003 with Volume 1 it was wise that they had chosen to prefix their name with “The”. Conversations in the pub would likely have included phrases such as “Bernard who?” and “Who’s this Bernard geezer then?” as the brain can all too easily skip over the correct spelling, particularly when doused in booze. Besnard is, for those not in the know, an actual lake in Saskatchewan, a Canadian province.
Slowly but surely, the Besnard Lakes have grouped together a quietly potent discography that upholds a commitment to grand, sweeping gestures. The Canadian quintet, lead by wedded pair Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas, have mastered throughout the years a sound that pairs together common rock tropes with an intricate psychedelic mesh of instrumental and sonic experimentation. It seemed as if the Lakes were ready to shift into a more classical style after their 2013 release Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO, which sounded more conceptually focused without turning away from their immaculate vocal harmonies and opulent instrumentation.
The Besnard Lakes are named for a real lake, but they’ve always been more closely associated with a studio. During the great Canadian indie rock boom of the mid-'00s, singer/guitarist Jace Lasek’s Breakglass Studios hosted bands like Wolf Parade, the Unicorns, Stars, and Land of Talk, capturing the imagination of music writers eager to pinpoint a connective thread behind Montreal’s music scene. Few of the acts that passed through Breakglass’s doors, however, put the studio to use quite like Besnard Lakes, who committed themselves to the "studio as an instrument" mentality of Lasek’s idol Brian Wilson on each of their sweeping, meticulously crafted albums.
The Besnard Lakes have become known for a certain epic lushness in their music and A Coliseum Complex Museum does not break the tradition of dreamy swooning. Eight densely layered tracks feature a wall of sound of synths, guitars, drums and lush harmonies. Vocals sit back in the mix, which means you either have to listen carefully or just let the organic sound wash over you – the overall vibe encourages you to do the latter.
A Coliseum Complex Museum is the Besnard Lakes' first record since 2013's Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO. They don't deviate too much from the latter record's tried and true formula on this latest effort; it's a wall-to-wall psychedelic bliss-out, featuring eight tracks stuffed to the rafters with dense instrumentation and the lush harmonies of husband and wife team Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas. Recorded at the band's own Breakglass Studios, A Coliseum Complex Museum is a real headphones record; a close listen allows the complex and multi-layered instrumentation to fully shine through.
The Besnard Lakes’ new album sounds just as the title suggests: A Coliseum Complex Museum. As they have proven over their last four records, the Montreal quartet has a tendency to make grandiose symphonies and sweeping musical suites. There’s no question that this type of songwriting comes easy for Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas; they find themselves most comfortable making epics that strive for the stature of Dark Side of the Moon.
The Besnard Lakes — A Coliseum Complex Museum (Jagjaguwar)Photo by Brendan George KoThe first album by The Besnard Lakes that many American audiences heard was 2007’s The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse, a work with an eye-catching cover featuring a horse engulfed in flames and a sound that was resolutely hard to pin down. It wasn’t their first album — that would be 2003’s aptly-titled Volume 1 — but it was a hell of an introduction. Noting the size of the group and their fondness for epic arrangements, many reviewers opted for a comparison to fellow Canadians Arcade Fire and Black Mountain.
The Upshot: Ineluctable melodies erupting from fuzz-crusted, feedback blurred roars: This band stirs a noisy pot of rock sounds, but vapors that escape smell delicious. Five albums into their Beach Boys-with-fuzz-and-feedback career, the Besnard Lakes continue to conjure euphoria, underpinning octave-leaping, pulse-quickening choruses with the churn and friction of effected guitars. The band, formed around the husband and wife duo of Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas, does nothing on A Coliseum Complex Museum that it hasn’t before, but there is also no let-up in joy.
The fifth full-length from the Besnard Lakes begins with The Bray Road Beast, a song that sonically channels what it must feel like to be launched into space. Its dreamy, peaceful intro slips into a blast of dense, galactic psychedelia that crescendos until it calmly runs out of fuel. And that’s only the first five and a half minutes. A Coliseum Complex Museum sustains that out-of-body sensation for its entire length, over vast ecosystems of blissed-out noise that often recall the equal parts accessible and ear-splitting sound of early 90s shoegaze.