It’s an epic quest — one with teeth bared, vocal cords strained, and eyelids drooped. One with seven-minute opuses, blown-out walls of sound, and evenly harmonized boy-girl vocals, where stage lights appear behind eyelids even with the doors closed and headphones on.
And it’s a quest through time and compositional prowess as much as through the night about which The Besnard Lakes opine so vehemently. Perhaps a little less stratospheric than their sophomore (and breakthrough) release The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse, …Are The Roaring Night brings the Montreal group’s potential down to earth, expanding what were sweeping, almost classical compositions into gut-wrenching, prog-y panoramas. A lot of the same cerebral, chamber-music-meets-guitar-wash elements are still there; they’re just a bit beefier this time.
Husband and wife duo Olga Goreas and Jace Lasek led the sometime sextet as they recorded — the publicists are eager to stress — at their Breakglass Studio on the same “1968 Neve germanium mixing console rumored to have been used to record portions of Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti.” Ghost of Rockers Past in the console or not, The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night certainly folds in the influence of performance precedent; the record possesses a theatricality that indicates an acute consciousness of their audience, from simple nomenclature outward. The thing about The Besnard Lakes naming their albums the way they do, adopting an alter-ego as their own identity rather than using an arbitrary moniker unrelated to themselves (they are the album; it’s not a separate entity), is that it takes the listener by the hand and immerses them in an alternate world. This is a journey they want you to accompany them on, and they make sure you know it with multi-part songs like the leadoff duo “Like The Ocean, Like The Innocent Pt. 1: The Ocean” and “Pt. 2: The Innocent,” as well as the mid-album pair “Land of Living Skies Pt.1: The Land” and “Pt. 2: The Living Skies.” The swells and troughs of seemingly endless, stormy sound become an ocean for riding upon or submerging yourself.
But there are times when the hurricane subsides temporarily — the eye in the storm, maybe — like the string section, flute, and immaculate choir vocal intro to standout “Chicago Train.” It’s almost religious — I hear cathedral ceilings in Lasek’s falsetto — a transcendent moment that truly overblown, over-orchestrated indie rock can deliver like no garage band ever could. When it switches suddenly to guitar and thudding drums and low vocals, it’s fantastically cathartic because of the serene beauty of what came before. Combined with rhythmic complications — the band drops beats toward the end of the song — and fuzzed out, front-of-the-mix riffs, the track concludes as heartily as it began delicately. Lasek and Goreas should be proud of the prowess they reveal in being able to navigate both so successfully.
The album’s hugeness continues even with the slightly sparser compositions like “Albatross,” in which Goreas croons about “sultry west coast light” in a song that already just feels like California, all warped guitar and choral “oooh”s. From the beginning, it sounds top-heavy, almost cavernous, until the bass and drums kick in a few phrases later; then the middle appears as a great wave of noise à la My Bloody Valentine but finally subsides like the tide. Near the end, they introduce an unexpected, strong synth melody; it’s deceptively nostalgic, like the song was something you always felt, but never knew how to express. “Albatross,” however, might be the highest-contrast composition on the album, as the rest, while admirably moving, soaring, and never (never!) compact, generally remains similar in tempo and sound sheath.
But this doesn’t completely finish the story. When we reach the end of …Are The Roaring Night, it’s the gauzy “The Lonely Moan” that steers us toward the shore. Goreas intones delicately over shimmering synth and fuzzed-out, low guitar; it’s as much a conclusion of our harrowing voyage as it is a cliffhanger that allows for a sequel to follow.