The Besnard Lakes seem incapable of thinking small. The Quebecois outfit’s four albums to date are elaborate, ornate affairs that exist in their own strange world between dream pop and post-rock. It’s as if mid-90’s Mercury Rev took a sharp right turn into shoegaze territory. Fronted by husband-and-wife team Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas, the band veils itself swirls of reverb, phase-shifted keyboards, and massive, pounding drums. They’ve recorded film soundtracks, twice been nominated for Canada’s prestigious Polaris Prize, and collaborated with many artists from the fertile Montreal music scene, including members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Stars.
The records are often so elaborate, in fact, that to their great credit they don’t even attempt to pull off the arrangements in concert. Instead, the songs are reimagined as sleek, chugging, guitar-driven beasts. For one night, though, the quartet will expand to a seventeen-member group at next week’s POP Montreal festival. “One thing we've always wanted to do is to perform live for you an entirely faithful rendition of our songs as they exist on the albums,” the band said in the initial announcement. “This means all the strings, horns, keys, guitars, percussion, vibraphone, backing vocals, etc. you know and love will be performed as they were recorded.”
Immediately after that triumphant hometown showcase, The Besnard Lakes will start criss-crossing the U.S. with reunited English legends Ride, a tour which brings both bands to the Midpoint Music Festival Mainstage on Saturday, September 26th. The band is still supporting their most recent Jagjaguwar effort, 2013’s Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO. The shortest tracks on the album clock in around five and a half minutes, and the entire affair is a labyrinthine display of technical prowess. The band never descends into proggy self-indulgence, relying instead on texture, repetition and slow-building climaxes to make their point. But they’re also not immune to a catchy melody; “People of the Sticks,” especially in its live form, is a delightful jangling earworm. Album-opener “46 Satires” flows in with seasick keyboards before settling into a chiming groove under Goreas’s gorgeous vocals, and she trades back and forth with her husband on the growling “At Midnight.”
Their prior album, 2010’s The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night, is their masterwork to these ears. Opening with the gargantuan bombast of “Like The Ocean, Like The Innocent,” the album often skews a bit closer to their live sound and features several shorter-form tracks to go along with the epics. “Albatross” lurches uneasily, but Goreas is calm and unfazed above the din. “Glass Printer” evokes Duluth slowcore godheads Low in the harmonies, but the guitars are more indebted than ever to the English shoegaze titans with whom they now find themselves on tour.
It’s well worth ensuring an early arrival to Washington Park on Saturday. The Besnard Lakes are some of the great unsung heroes of 21st century indie rock, and they don’t tour often (the last evidence I can find of a local show was a full eight years ago). Along with Ride and post-rock earthquakers Caspian, they form the start of one of the most inspiring schedule triple-threats in the festival’s long history.