The Besnard Lakes, “…Are the Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings”

The Besnard Lakes
…Are the Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings
FATCAT
8/10

I’m not quite old enough to have been paying strict attention to the goings-on of the expansive Canadian indie scene in the mid-aughts, though New Pornographers, Broken Social Scene, and their various offshoots occasionally made cameos on playlists largely populated by pre-Grammy Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, and their American cousins. The Besnard Lakes always felt peripheral, which I guess I’d always assumed meant they were like a second-rate version of all these other infinite-roster bands rather than a completely separate entity specializing in dense atmospherics, and relying on reverb rather than full orchestras for their complex textures. Even before they dropped the chilling “Chicago Train,” their music reminded me of the murals decorating that city’s interiors depicting the 1871 fire—a unique visual style that also happens to match that of each of the Besnards’ album covers.

There is something New Pornographers-y about their sound though—just when things get excessively doomy, there’s a certain uplifting melody that shines through, rearing its head early on …Are the Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings. Kicking off with ominous ambiance and Western-esque guitars, the track opens up into something of a baroque, slowed-way-down take on Twin Cinema, though the vibe remains impossible to pin down. Serving as the band’s first full-length record in eight years, their allegiance to psych and shoegaze has evolved into a total who-gives-a-shit attitude (that’s literally the wording used by the band), revealing a longstanding ambient agenda permitting a near twenty-minute title track to close out the album. And it works, not just in the ten minutes of humming that ends the record, but in the patient buildups to moments of bliss, as heard on “Christmas Can Wait” where we can really feel the band spreading their wings.

There’s plenty of balance on Thunderstorm, though, with (relatively) tight lead singles “Raindrops” and “Feuds with Guns” injecting a sense of calm early on the album with a vibe that could maybe best be described as reverse-engineered chillwave—drop the layers of synths and replace them with a six-piece band with maximalist ideas. “New Revolution” marks a turning point in the record, exploding into a moment of ecstasy—leading into a rapturous, Easter Sunday–like celebration of life over death on the following “The Father of Time Wakes”—after an ambient intro built upon an electronic drum beat not too far removed from those that power early singles from Washed Out and Toro y Moi.

All of this feeds into a late-Malick meditation on mortality, particularly death and resurrection, which even extends to the fact that several of the songs found new life here after being vaulted for years after originally being penned for a film soundtrack. While it was inspired by actual death, it’s the creative rebirth of the band that gives even the darkest passages of this cinematic (and nearly feature-film length) record a hopeful sheen throughout.

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