Ride the dark horse

Pub date September 18, 2007
WriterTodd Lavoie
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

Is there a single animal on God’s once-green Earth that is as closely equated with drama and pageantry as the mighty horse? Powerful, elegant, showy as all hell — it’s no wonder we’ve cultivated such a fascination for them, particularly when it comes to using them as signifiers. Equus, anyone? Or how about Patti Smith? When she torched the rock ‘n’ roll playbook with her revolution more than 30 years ago, which animals did she pick to lead the charge? Lions? Bears? Squirrels? Ah, didn’t think so.

Montreal’s Besnard Lakes couldn’t have created a better introduction for their distinctive brand of speaker-soaking drama than the title and cover of their sophomore release, The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse (Jagjaguwar). While artists such as Feist, Wolf Parade, and the Arcade Fire have been given the spotlight in the music press’s ongoing celebration of all things Canadian, the intriguingly monikered sextet were able to charge into the ring from out of nowhere, blindsiding indie kids, critics, and record-shop hanger outers far and wide. The cover? A sleek black horse, thundering out of a clamor of flames — a fitting overture for a band best described as majestic.

Like fellow Montrealers the Arcade Fire, the Besnard Lakes are led by a husband-and-wife duo — Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas — who share an affinity for inviting emotional release through stereo epics addressing the darker side of human nature. Instead of conveying such urgency with the same twitchiness as their neighbors, however, they offer slowly unfolding heroics that sparkle and ignite thanks to their ongoing battle between two opposing urges: to remain earthbound by updating classic rock traditions and to propel themselves into space. Witness album opener "Disaster," a string-laden, feedback-driven opus — complete with flute, French horn, and Brian Wilson–informed harmonies — that pushes and pulls between Spiritualized-esque flotation and Beach Boys sunbathing, all the while managing to shine a warm glow on the damning observation "You’ve got disaster on your mind."

Among the many references to war and violence, "Devastation" makes such havoc feel downright liberating, thanks to a full-throttle acid-metal groove, laser beam–shooting synth squeals, and a rousing chorus howled by what sounds like a hippie commune on the wrong side of the law. Lasek and Goreas’s ghostly harmonies frequently billow in the same ether as those of Low’s Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, particularly during the unsettling throb of dysfunctional-household narrative "Because Tonight." And while the comparisons to all of the aforementioned artists certainly apply, the Besnard Lakes remain closest in spirit to that horse on the cover: grand, graceful, and tougher than I can ever dream of being.


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