The Besnard Lakes are kind of infuriating because, when they can be bothered to get to the fucking point, they’re actually pretty good. It’s that whole “getting to the fucking point” thing that they kind of suck at. I’m completely unafraid of long songs and songs that take a while to build (I like Sigur Ros, for example), but – call me crazy – I just can’t dig songs that stubbornly refuse to go anywhere.
On The Besnard Lakes are the Roaring Night, the not-at-all pretentiously named follow-up to The Besnard Lakes are the Dark Horse, the now twice-titular Besnard Lakes have assembled some really beautiful bits of music and spaced them out at random amongst lots and lots of meandering, frightfully dull bullshit. I think it’s supposed to be “atmospheric,” but it’s mostly really difficult to pay attention to. There are precisely four minutes and forty-two seconds of music on The Besnard Lakes are the Boring Night that hold me utterly rapt. They’re collected into a really beautiful song called “Albatross,” sung by Olga Goreas. “Albatross” is so good it nearly saves the whole album. Nearly.
Which is, in my mind, all the more reason to damn The Besnard Lakes are Really Not in a Hurry. When your band can do something like “Albatross,” there is no reason whatsoever to precede it with… well, everything that precedes it. Not once but twice on The Besnard Lakes are Probably Pretty Sick of this Joke do the B-nards, as I like to call them, present us with a false two-part song. The first fake two-part song is “The Ocean and the Innocent.” Part 1 (“The Ocean”) is a little more than a minute and a half of noise and chords that only serves as a long, unnecessary introduction to Part 2 (“The Innocent,” of course). Now, “The Innocent” has some good bits, but they could lose all of part one, chop three minutes off of part two, and just have one pretty good song called “The Ocean and the Innocent.” But instead, they’ve stuck us with two parts unequal in length but completely equal in their audacious level of wanton pretension (and this is coming from a guy who will forgive a lot of fucking pretension. I like Yo La Tengo, for dog’s sake, and they’re not known for being unpretentious, even by those who love them). The gag is so apparently funny to the B-nards that they repeat it for “Land of Living Skies” – it’s just as stupid the second time around.
The Besnard Lakes are the Dark Horse was, to my mind, a pretty good album. There was dark subject matter, beautiful harmonies, and a bit more discipline. I’m not saying every song needs a hook in the first minute and a half (again, see Sigur Ros, Yo La Tengo, and plenty of other bands I like… I don’t think anyone has ever identified a “hook” in a Tom Waits song, but the man is nonetheless America’s Greatest Living Songwriter); by “discipline,” I mean you chop out the shit that is not necessary to the song’s, you know, being good. I know, we all think when we write songs that everything we put in there is necessary and beautiful and amazing and like our kids or whatever but if your bandmates really love and respect you, they’ll be able to tell you when you’re full of shit. And much of The Besnard Lakes are the Roaring Night (let’s not overuse the name-pun gag) sounds like someone forgot to tell someone else that they were full of shit.
Know what else? Olga Goreas should just be the lead singer for the Besnard Lakes. As I listen to Roaring Night again for the nth time, I find that she’s singing lead on all one and a half of my favorite tracks. Her husband, Jace Lasek (who also invented a popular laser eye surgery), shares vocal duties, but he should just surrender the mic to his wife. It’s not that his voice is bad (far from it – the couple sounds really good on part 2 of “Land of Living Skies” a.k.a. “Living Skies” a.k.a. “The Only Necessary Part of this Two-Part Song Because the Other Part is Not a Song”), it’s just that hers is better.
The thing I hope you’ll understand here is that there is no bad music on The Besnard Lakes Hopefully Have Better Fans than Portugal. The Man. There is, however, a whole lot of unnecessary music on the album that bogs the thing down and obscures the truly beautiful, well-crafted stuff that might win a person over to the musical stylings of the B-nards. For that matter, there are plenty of people who are going to love this album despite – and perhaps because of – its tendency to meander. Like it or not, as always, is your business. I’m not even sure I dislike the album; I’m definitely infuriated by it, but that’s mostly because I know what it could be if the B-nards just settled down a little bit and were a little better at looking at a song and ruthlessly doing away with whatever doesn’t serve the song. “Albatross” is the best song on The Besnard Lakes are the Roaring Night because it is the least repetitive, among the least pretentious, and its length feels about right, instead of feeling like it’s been inflated for the sake of some vague notion of atmospherics or dynamics (a long, boring introduction before a real song starts is no replacement for real dynamics. Listen to the Pixies if you want to know everything you need to know about brevity and dynamics in rock music).
Any time I literally have to force myself to sit down and listen to an album, that’s a bad thing. And with The Besnard Lakes are the Roaring Twenties, I’ve had to deprive myself of other distractions to make it through the whole thing. It feels like work. My guess is someone might suggest letting the album “wash over” me as I listen to it and I know you expect me to make fun of people who might say such a hippie-dippy thing as that, but it’s a legitimate suggestion and one that is useful when listening to, say, Gavin Bryars or Riceboy Sleeps. I don’t think it’s all that legitimate with regard to the B-nards because Roaring Night clearly has some moving moments to it and they wouldn’t be there if it was a “washing over” kind of record (Bryars’s stunningly beautiful and grammatically suspect Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet is the ultimate “wash over” you record – get the CD version that features Tom Waits and you’ll see what I mean). No, I think The Besnard Lakes are the Roaring Night is a bit of a misguided rock record where “Albatross” is unfortunately the exception when it should be the rule. And, that being the case, it’s the most infuriating album I’ve heard this year, though somehow not the worst.