Incoming: The Besnard Lakes' loud love letter to California pop, with spies
The Besnard Lake's Jace Lasek may hail from the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, but when the band comes to Los Angeles this week it will be a sonic homecoming of sorts. Hollywood-ready plot lines are stitched throughout the band's three albums, where songs of spies, betrayal and delusions are delivered with grandeur.
A Besnard Lake arrangement ebbs and flows, with oceanic waves of guitar enveloping the listener, and tender harmonies calming the band's roar. It's a vision, said Lasek, that can be traced to Southern California pop icon Brian Wilson.
"I was always really enamored with the way Brian Wilson put together ‘Good Vibrations'," Lasek said from the road on Saturday. "The verses were recorded at one studio, and the chorus was recorded somewhere else, and you can kind of hear how it goes from a dark texture to a brighter texture. That largely has to do with the different studios, and I always thought that was really cool, where different sections of the song have completely different textures. We pursue that idea."
The Besnard Lakes will appear at the Troubadour on Thursday in support of the recently released "The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night," an album that refines the act's epic scope. Though the band is on its third album, the act isn't what necessarily pays the bills. Lasek's day job is running Breakglass Studios in Montreal, and "Roaring Night" is the kind of heavily textured album that takes full advantage of the studio.
"Chicago Train" opens with a mist of strings and Lasek's striking falsetto -- the voice treated as if it's a piece of an orchestra -- and soon gives way to heavily layered blissed-out guitar tones and anthemic backing harmonies. "Albatross," above, is 4 1/2 minutes of hypnotic shades and tones, anchored by the sweetly direct Olga Goreas, Lasek's wife and musical partner since 2000). Songs, said Lasek, are cut-and-pasted from studio experiments, and the goal is hard-crushing arrangements that are built on patience. Rock songs become mini-suites, often broken up into multiple parts.
"I’ve always been a fan of old '60s and '70s records that take a long time to build, and we always put our records together as an album," Lasek said. "Brian Wilson was able to put two or three instruments together playing the exact same melody, just to create a really interesting sound. A guitar, an organ and a bass guitar can be put together to sound like an amalgamation of them all. We’re always trying to find strange sounds in the studio. We want the listener to hear something different and new, and we’re thinking about vinyl. We want people to sit down and become immersed in it."
All three Besnard Lakes album are loosely connected via spy movie narrative. Yet one doesn't need to follow the story, as the band's dream-like lyrics are more of a Morse Code than a clearly defined plot. Lasek and Goreas write from different perspectives, and the mix of confessionals and exotic locales suit the classic rock mysticism of tracks such as "Light Up the Night," where a hymn-like piano provides the song's foundation.
"It’s supposed to conjure this image where one doesn't know whether the character was ever a spy, or if he’s just a crazy person walking the streets thinking he was spy," Lasek said. "It creates an interesting balance. Olga writes more from personal experience, and she’ll throw in a reference from this stuff I’m writing about. I need something to write about. Olga has a knack for putting together good words that have to do with her experience."
Finally, a word of advice to those who see the band on Thursday: bring earplugs. The Besnard Lakes recently had a showcase gig at the South by Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas, playing on a bill the same night as Canadian pop act Broken Social Scene, and the band had little trouble filling the outdoor, 2,000-capacity-plus venue with sprawling waves of noise.
"Playing in small clubs is cool, because we're so loud," Lasek said. "The whole room gets filled up with sound, and that's what we're aiming to do."
The Besnard Lakes at the Troubadour with Happy Hollows and Infantree, 9801 Santa Monica Blvd. Tickets are $12.
Other shows of note this week:
* VV Brown on Wednesday at the Troubadour: When the world was first introduced to this Brit-pop singer way back in 2008, it was via spunky retro single "Crying Blood," a big-beat take on the classic girl group sound of the '60s. Brown shows plenty of versatility on her vintage-laced debut, "Travelling Like the Light," bringing a rock 'n' roll bent to orchestral soul like "Shark in the Water." Her Mardi Gras-like masks may look homemade, but vocally she's pure professionalism, and unafraid to cover Drake's "Best I Ever Had," turning it into a darker, edgier cut. Tickets are $15.
* Sierra Leone's Refugee Allstars on Wednesday at the Roxy. Escaping from war-torn Sierra Leone, the Refugee Allstars are all about celebrating the healing power of music. If there's a downside to seeing the act at this intimate Sunset Strip club, it's only that there's minimal room to stretch out and get lost in the groove. New album "Rise & Shine," produced by Los Lobos' Steve Berlin, is an international tour of worldly beats, merging Afropop, New Orleans brass and reggae traditions, and all of it bringing an upbeat vibe to a rebel spirit. Tickets are $20.
-- Todd Martens
Photo: The Besnard Lakes' Jace Lasek at South by Southwest. Credit: Jack Plunket / For The Times. Bottom photo: VV Brown. Credit: Lorenzo Aguis
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