The Besnard Lakes’ sixth album is a career-spanning retrospective that transcends past achievements and documents their journey to the brink and back.
Justifiably so for a seventy-two-minute, eight-track psychedelic song suite, The Besnard Lakes Are The Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings is an album that has a lot to unpack. After separating from long-time record label Jagjaguwar, band founders Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas took the necessary time to contemplate the Besnard Lakes’ future. They also wrestled with figuring out how they fit into a contemporary musical landscape that rewards algorithmic-friendly Spotifycore blandness over sprawling, ambitious space-rock. The short answer: they don’t. The long answer is more nuanced than a recent press release suggesting Lasek and Goreas shrugged and said “Who gives a shit.”. At first blush, The Besnard Lakes Are The Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings feels like a triumphant return to form, picking up where previous albums left off. In reality, though, the band’s sixth album is a career-spanning retrospective odyssey that transcends their past achievements and documents their journey to the brink of dissolution and return from the dead.
Let’s start with that title. Though never a band to shy away from unwieldy album titles, the fact that the band chose to return to the album-naming convention used in 2007 for The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse and 2010’s The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night suggests a return to those albums’ musical aesthetic. Both …The Dark Horse and …The Roaring Night are resplendent in hazy Beach Boys-inspired melodies and sprawling waves of reverb, a palette the band is embracing once again after the more structured songs on 2016’s A Coliseum Complex Museum and 2013’s Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO. Free from record company expectations, Lasek and Goreas indulged everyone of their musical predilections with …The Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings. Songs like “New Revolution” and “The Father of Time Wakes Up” are constructed in the way nature creates those titular storms: through slow-gathering forces that build then surge, then dissipating just as fast before whipping up into a frenzy that never lets itself get too out of hand. There’s always a sense of control no matter how big free-formed tunes like “Our Heads, Our Hearts On Fire Again” and “Christmas Can Wait” get. Their hallmark melodies and harmonies snuggle into unexpectedly groovy singles “Feuds with Guns” and “Raindrops” like a comfortable sweater whose sleeves have dried its fair share of tears. The closing eighteen-minute-long title track that’s packed with enough movements to be a mini-album all on its own is indispensable. You can’t — and shouldn’t — skip over its all-encompassing epicness; to do so would be to completely miss the thematic arc of the record and the band’s history.
This brings us to the overarching theme of …The Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings: a journey to and from the brink of extinction. The double-album is divided into sides named “Near Death,” “Death,” “After Death,” and “Life”, mirroring significant losses in their personal and professional lives. Lasek’s father passed away during the record’s recording, and his journey through morphine-induced hallucinations and psychedelic visions informs much of the record’s sound and structure. There are poignant tributes to musical heroes like Prince and Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis as well; visionary musicians, who also said “Who gives a shit,” and put their own artistic integrity ahead of music industry expectations. The resulting album is a haunting and stirring amorphous whole that lives up to its epic title: the Besnard Lakes music, like life itself, is an ever-shifting mass of unpredictable energy and boundless possibilities. The Besnard Lakes Are The Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings is likely to be lauded as their best album yet, not because they’ve gone back to a style and form from the past, but because they’ve brought their past forward with them as they roll into the next phase of their life.