Montreal’s The Besnard Lakes have been the patron saints of grand psych rock for years now. They’re one of those bands that you’ve never heard of until you have, then they’re all you’ll listen to for weeks. With leader Jace Lasek at the helm, this psych/pop rock behemoth has made records that feel like dizzying dreams; fever-laced soulful sounds that combine the child-like wonder of the Beach Boys with the dark, thunderstorm mind of Pink Floyd and Spiritualized. The Besnard Lakes are contemplative, sweet, sad, and slightly hallucinogenic.
On the band’s newest album, the mouthful The Besnard Lakes Are The Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings, Lasek and his crew tackle death and grief and longing and remembrance over the course of a double LP. A five year hiatus has given us the Besnard Lakes best and densest record yet.
“The Besnard Lakes Are The Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings is a double LP. “Near Death” is the title of the first side. “Death,” “After Death,” and “Life” follows next. It’s literally a journey into (and back from) the brink: the story of the Besnard Lakes’ own odyssey but also a remembrance of others, especially the death of Lasek’s father in 2019.” So going in to this album you know it’s going to be heavy, but even the heaviest of themes are done in a way that isn’t heavy-handed with the Besnard Lakes.
Album opener “Blackstrap” sounds like opening some great novel and the first paragraph completely blows you away. A mixture of ELO, Radiohead, and 60s pop all rolled into something Roger Waters would approve of. The epic “Christmas Can Wait” wavers and wobbles over 8 minutes of glorious hallucinogenic grandiosity. With a band like The Besnard Lakes the devil is in the details, and they give us so many details to get lost in. Layering synths, guitars, and vocals like warm blankets on a cold, winter night, the Lakes treat us to something incredibly deep and special. “Our Heads, Our Hearts On Fire Again” bring to mind The Polyphonic Spree with its chorus of vocals and symphonic sound. It’s as if the Mamas and the Papas and Jesus and Mary Chain combined in the particle accelerator and gave us this amazing song.
“New Revolution” feels revelatory, a buzzing rock and roll song that rises like a phoenix in anthemic glory. “The Father of Time Wakes Up” is sweet and sad and works to the strength of The Besnard Lakes’ vocal prowess. It’s reminscent of the Flaming Lips sweeter moments in recent years as well. It’s also a song in remembrance of the late, great Prince. The title track closes the album out with a nearly 18-minute length. It’s the perfect way to end this musical journey as it opens quietly, builds to a grand climax, and then dissipates slowly. It gives us time to reflect on what we just experienced.
I feel like this sums up The Besnard Lakes Are The Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings better than anything, and it’s a quote from the band themselves. “Being on your deathbed is perhaps the most psychedelic trip you can go on: in Lasek’s father’s case, he surfaced from a morphine dream to talk about “a window” on his blanket, with “a carpenter inside, making intricate objects.” There is something very visceral and magical about that. This record is very much like finding a window on your blanket. But instead of a carpenter inside its The Besnard Lakes, and they are indeed making intricate objects.
There’s just so much here to love that going over every track is futile. The Besnard Lakes Are The Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings is epic and plays like one long, glorious fever dream. In these times of busy minds, hot takes, and Tik Tok, there seems to be a lack of patience for something like the album experience(old guy rant warning!) This double LP is a damn good reason to get back to sitting and listening, and experiencing music the way it was intended. The Besnard Lakes have made a masterpiece worth your time, ears, and headspace.
8.8 out of 10