Thursday, March 11, 2010

Shoegazing in the depths of a dead sea - The Besnard Lakes

If there’s one thing that can take on as many shapes and moods and nuances as music, it would surely be the sea. And just as we saw the sea yesterday, through the music of The Beachniks, bathed in sunlight, sea spray blowing onto the shore, today, in the Canadian shoegaze band The Besnard Lakes’ new release, The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night, we see it submerged, dark and murky, in the shadows of a black sky.

If the album cover is anything to go by, with its image of a night set ablaze in balls of fire, this music is not meant to be giving you a sanguine, pretty view of things. And certainly its ten tracks, building rich soundscapes of dark harmonies and tones, with layers of eerie electronic sound, guitars riffing with a kind of gentle anguish, sad pianos, piercingly high falsetto vocals, create a creepy, ghostly world where everything feels it could be on the edge.

And yet the music’s dark ambience is neither depressing nor menacing. There’s a sadness, a melancholy, here, but not a fury. It’s as if the earth, and its vast oceans, turned black with the ashes of human negligence, are shedding their own tears rather than raging a fight of retaliation.

Listen, for example, to the gentle melancholy of the opening two-part ‘Like the Ocean, Like the Innocent’ where, out of a dream-like nothingness, we hear the sad echoes of something already lost, across vast, calm, but infinitely sorrowful waters; or to the sense of mystery in the dark rumblings that open ‘Land of Living Skies’, again in two parts, morphing into a haunted, caressing song with soft, tender vocals, hurt but still beautiful.

The closest the album gets to anger is perhaps in the strong, strident beat of ‘And This Is What We Call Progress’, but even that leads into ‘Light Up the Night’, soaring like a passionate elegy over massive chords, heroic even in defeat.

The album closes with ‘The Lonely Moan’ – which, still rich and spacious, really does conjure up images of a lonely, unfathomably vast sea and yet not one so much that drags you down into bleak and ominous depths, but rather one on which you sail away, sadly, alone, but somehow at rest.

There is a strange and wonderful beauty in this album’s sadness, perhaps thanks to the way it paints its pictures, dark as they are, with such love and affection. If The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night takes you on a journey, it’s a slow and pensive journey – one where you stop to look at the skies, set alight by fire rather than by sunshine but which, even so, are beautiful; one where you sail across seas that are dim and lifeless, but that still contain the memories and souls of a million years, many of them magnificent and grand.

This is intensely introspective music – it shows you a big view of the world, but through very personal eyes. It strolls along in that ambient, shoegaze sort of way, dense with sound, one thick moment blending into the next.

The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night is not music to dance on the beach to – you’ve got the Beachniks for that – but if you want to submerge yourself in the ocean’s darker depths, this is the album to take you there.


  1. Um ... What is 'a shoegaze band'? Surely not one that never looks up?

  2. Well, Patrick, in a way, you're not totally off the mark there. Shoegaze got its name from bands who tended to stand very still, looking at their feet, while they played introspective, moody music - it sort of characterised a type of personality in musicians, as much as in music.