Yes, they are, but not a brooding, moping, or gothic dark. This dark horse is being consumed by ravaging flames, the image depicted on the cover of the Besnard Lakes' otherworldly Jagjaguwar debut.
This dark horse's molecular structure consists of the dizzying sweep of strings, sinister bass lines, euphoric crescendos of sonic guitars, lulling vocal harmonies, triumphant keyboard chords, and punches of climactic horn punctuated by exacting percussion. As it burns, these intense molecules are released in a mesmerizing boom that lasts 45 minutes.
The Canadian band's foundation consists of husband and wife team Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas. Together they played most of the instruments on their first album, titled Volume 1, which was independently released in 2003. For The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse, Lasek and Goreas brought in Steve Raegele for guitar solos, Nicole Lizée for string and horn parts, and Kevin Laing for drums. For the more epic songs on the album, they enlisted help from noteworthy Montreal area musicians from the likes of Stars and The Dears.
The opening track, "Disaster," begins deceivingly quietly, with Lasek's signature Brian Wilson falsetto layered with mellow guitar, strings, and horn. This simple structure lasts for approximately two minutes, when a sonic guitar and strings swoop in, followed by steady bass and drums. This combination sustains the song, which floats gloriously towards six minutes.
Tracks two and three build on "Disaster," with Goreas' Julee Cruise-esque voice and more reverberating guitar. It's not until "Devastation" that the explosion goes off.
"Devastation" is an anthem of the album from its first notes, which sounds much like an orchestra tuning. The instrumentation includes three bass parts, three guitar parts, three drum parts, a synthesizer and the Fifth String Liberation Singers Choir. After a few opening measures, all the instruments drive right in, including the choir, which sings a gospel-like refrain. The chorus is an elongated "DE-VA-STAAA-TION" sung by the choir. The pace never slows and the basses just pound away at the infectious hook, while the guitars pile on layers of reverb.
While musical allusions abound--surf and psychedelic rock, synth and shoegazer pop--the Besnard Lakes succeeds in inventing a sound completely their own.
In "On Bedford and Grand," they critique the hipster capital of the world, Williamsburg, by satirizing the L train:
You wouldn't believe the things that we saw
Although they are the dark horse, the Besnard Lakes end with a rather upbeat Mamas and the Papas-tinged frolic. And perhaps that is what makes them so good--always dark, yet always joyful. Within this juxtaposition lies the core of the Besnard Lakes' glorious sound. • Katy Henriksen