If there is such a thing as a soundtrack for the end of the world, then the Besnard Lakes' stunning first album, the self-referentially titled The Besnard Lakes are the Dark Horse, has to be it. It is intense, it is brooding—an oddly successful mix of soaring Pet Sounds harmonies over haunting lyrics about destruction and disaster. It is Cormac McCarthy’s The Road as orchestrated by Brian Wilson. One couldn’t help but imagine one of the horses of the apocalypse. Still, at times it is almost too much to bear; as downers go, the end of the world has to be right up there.
Fortunately The Besnard Lakes are the Roaring Night lets up a little. If Dark Horse was falling buildings, bleak landscapes and the beauty of decay, Roaring Night is the possibility of a new beginning—even after the end of the world. Dark Horse painted it black, Roaring Night shines a little light.
The first two tracks set the tone of this record. Although it starts with the haunting soprano voices that punctuated the first album, they quickly descend several octaves. We go from the land of ghosts that populated Dark Horse into the fiery, but still dark, glow of the Roaring Night. There is a call and a response: “Oh, you’re like the ocean,” say the male voices. “Oh, you’re like the ocean," says the female. In Robert Frost’s poem, “The Most of It,” the poet cries out but hears only a “mocking echo” of his own voice in reply. Here there is no echo, but a real, live human voice—in Frost’s words, “counter-love, original response.” We get the sense that not all is lost and that we are not alone. Even the question the lyrics ask, “what’s in your empty eyes?” is not as despairing as it first seems. The fact that the eyes are empty is not as important as that there is something in them. They are not completely vacant, there are signs of life. The triumphant last line, “Take the noose around my neck, take it off,” soars.
But this is not late period R.E.M. “Everybody Hurts” anti-suicide, self-help pabulum. Indeed, as an album Dark Horse puts the noose around our necks in the first place. But Roaring Night is in its own way life affirming. The title of the first two tracks, “Like the Ocean, Like the Innocents, Parts I and II,” hint at what flavor of hopefulness we’re being given. With the destruction of the world (this was what Dark Horse narrated) we can experience what Nietzsche called “the innocence of becoming.” We are free to start over and remake the world without being constrained by the old ways or burdened by the guilt of the past. The world is a blank slate for us to write on.
The sound of Dark Horse was eerily impenetrable, it had no handles to grab on to. It was a perfect black orb. Roaring Night is more raw and less polished, but because of that, more joyful. The guitars range freely over the voices, not everything marches in lock-step. The band takes chances and these chances succeed, like in “Albatross,” a song that can only be described as Sinead O’Connor with backing vocals by Beach Boys. It is a lovely, incongruous blend.
People like to talk about the album of the summer, and this seems to mean the album is peppy and poppy with a driving beat. Something you can dance to. You can’t dance to Roaring Night and it won’t be the album of the summer. It has a much better claim to being the album of the spring.
But, as the pilgrims in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales knew, spring isn't always easy, and April can be the cruelest month. But spring does mean that the dark winter is over and we can hope again. It is not the end of the world. The Besnard Lakes have not made a happy album, as a band they are probably constitutionally incapable of doing so. But while the sun may not be shining over this record, the title has is right. It is still night and we have a long way until dawn—but the night is roaring.
1. Like The Ocean, Like The Innocent; Pt. 1: The Ocean
2. Like The Ocean, Like The Innocent; Pt. 2: The Innocent
3. Chicago Train
5. Glass Printer
6. Land of Living Skies; Pt. 1: The Land
7. Land of Living Skies; Pt. 2: The Living Skies
8. And This is What We Call Progress
9. Light Up The Night
10. The Lonely Moan