…Are the Dark Horse, by The Besnard Lakes
Suggested by Stuart Emerson
Every time I look at the words “The Besnard Lakes”, my mind converts them into “The Barenaked Ladies.”
First, this is not a sex thing. It’s a reference to the Canadian band The Barenaked Ladies, who I enjoyed a lot back in the Nineties. They were briefly popular in the UK in 1995 with their Top 10 single One Week.
Oddly, The Besnard Lakes are also Canadian. Their name comes from Besnard Lake in North-Central Saskatchewan. Thus, they continue the fine tradition of naming your band after a location, in the style of Boston, Chicago, the Detroit Spinners, Texas, East 17, Chuck Bury, Terence Trent Derby and, of course, France Ferdinand.
The Barenaked Ladies are an alt-rock jangle-pop band with a quirky style and an upbeat catalogue. The Besnard Lakes are not this at all. If anything, they are so far the opposite of the Barenaked Ladies that they should be called The Clothed Men.
…Are the Dark Horse is The Besnard Lakes second studio album, and it contains their signature shabby chic atmospheric rock soundscapes. They songs within are of a singular pace, which I’d generously describe as measured and ungenerously call out as plodding. Instrumentally, there’s a lot going on here, with a hinted cacophonous blend of guitars, strings, brass and synths, but it all seems to be happening just out of earshot, a little too Stage Left, to be anything more than tantalizing. It’s also parsed through a filter of fuzz and low-fi indifference, as if shambling is the best speed at which to move your booty. I’m sure that’s a design choice, but there’s not much of a happy ending to any of these aural massages.
Overlaying the sound, we have the breathy and dreamlike vocals supplied by what seems like a shrugging choir of blasé angels. It’s psychedelic in places, and very Beach Boys, if the Beach Boys were underwater and singing through wet megaphones. The songs themselves almost yearn to go somewhere, but they are restrained by their sluggishness. However, they do actually build from modest caterpillars into colourful butterflies, and it’s not an unpleasant sensation.
But even if songs such as Disaster and my favourite Devastation excite my more passively receptive tastebuds, the rest of it feels formless and rather meandering. The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse gets 6/10, with a full point of that for its Nightmare-inspired album cover. Its walking speed provides us with a pleasant stroll, I suppose, but sometimes you need a route march to get where you want to be.