Hurray For The Riff Raff - Best New Track
The story of The Besnard Lakes begins at Besnard Lake: a spectacular yet secluded water feature in rural Saskatchewan which the Montreal group’s husband and wife core, Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas, visit each summer for inspiration and escape. This year the couple’s campsite was surrounded for a worrying few days by forest flames, a literal ring of fire which informed the devil-may-care spirit of their exuberant fifth album.
“Besnard Lake is usually the place where we get the germination of ideas,” explains Jace. “We set up a small recording rig in the trailer we have up there .This time there were also helicopters with giant water tanks flying over us while we were fishing on the lake!”
Armed with demos and memories from their trip, the pair returned to the city and entered Breakglass Studios. Co-founded by Lasek a decade ago, this popular recording facility has long been a hub for Montreal’s fertile, collaborative and proudly DIY music community. Having met and fallen in love in Vancouver, where Jace was a photography-trained art student and Olga a bass-slinging star on the underground rock circuit, the pair relocated at the turn of the millennium. Vancouver had gotten too expensive. By contrast, “Montreal was super cheap because there had been the Quebec referendum in ’95 and a lot of the Anglos had left. There was a political teeter-totter happening, so there were tons of empty places. We moved out here and were able to live, rehearse and record in a loft for next to nothing.”
The predominantly French-speaking province’s economic depression birthed an ever-evolving scene that’s become internationally renowned for such disparate independent avatars as Godspeed You! Black Emperor and The Arcade Fire. Unique among their furrowed brow peers, The Besnard Lakes are unafraid to marry textured, questing headphone sonics to the honeyed pleasure of radio hits past: the rapture of My Bloody Valentine entwined with the romance of Fleetwood Mac. (Echoing prime FM they actually now have two girl/boy couplings in the line-up, keyboard player Sheenah Ko and guitarist Robbie MacArthur joining powerhouse drummer Kevin Laing and non-touring studio axe hero Richard White.) Imagine dreamy Beach House riding Led Zeppelin dynamics, with unabashedly androgynous vocal harmonies. This melodic yet mountainous soundworld was sculpted at Breakglass, their own modest Paisley Park. As the longterm sporter of a Love Symbol tattoo, Prince’s pop alchemy is especially potent for Jace.
“You look on the back of his early records and it’s produced, arranged, recorded and performed by Prince. When I realised that as a 12-year-old I was like, Oh fuck! So this kid can make a record all by himself. So then why can’t I? He was also the guy who made me realise that it was ok to sing high. Just throw caution to the wind. He’s not concerned about being super macho. Once I started getting into punk rock in high school, Prince was still there. He didn’t lose relevancy for me. Prince was still there when I started getting into prog rock, too. We’re just absorbed in music of all sorts.”
Olga, meanwhile, has been exploring a new creative outlet via her domestic interpretation of the occult, inspired by a Disinformation lecture given by comic book writer Grant Morrison. “He was talking about sigils,” remembers her adoring partner. “It was really personal for Oggy, like a meditation she would do in the morning, and also just a fun thing. She developed these 11 sigils, which you can see on the inside of the record’s jacket. For the deluxe edition she’s hand engraved them onto these little tags. The meanings are very simple: one is love, another is empathy. That leads back to this whole idea of mystery and the myth of the band.”
Channelling their obsessions with the paranormal – Jace was a teenage ghost hunter – as well as the dark arts, A Coliseum Complex Museum is populated by cryptozoological creatures (The Bray Road Beast, Golden Lion) while also luxuriating in natural phenomena and beauty (The Plain Moon, Nightingale). These themes are sincere yet good-humoured. The LP’s title jokily refers to a landmark-heavy road sign spotted on tour in Texas, the varied emotional impulses within reflected by its environmentally warped artwork.
“For a long time we were trying to keep secret that we love being out in nature,” admits Jace. “Because it’s kinda cliché. But with this record we decided to stop fighting what we love so much. So the front cover actually has a lake on it, but it’s also got this giant orb shooting light into the water, which is creating a hole that’s opening a portal to the coliseum complex museum. It’s kinda fucked.”