By Allyson Bills
Montreal’s The Besnard Lake’s continues their love of all things paranormal into their fifth full-length album, A Coliseum Complex Museum recorded at their own Breakglass Studios and released on their long-time label Jagjaguwar. The band’s namesake originated from a secluded water feature in a rural area of the Canadian Province, Saskatchewan, where The Besnard Lakes’ core members, husband-and-wife team of vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Jace Lasek and vocalist and bassist Olga Goreas visit every summer for inspiration on writing their albums. Despite the stability in writing inspiration, The Besnard Lakes had undergone some line-up changes between the releases of A Coliseum Complex Museum and 2013’s Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO, adding guitarist Robbie McArthur and keyboardist Sheenah Ko to the mix. The mainstays of The Besnard Lakes are rounded out by drummer Kevin Laing and guitarist Richard White.
The main problem with A Coliseum Complex Museum is that it sounds exactly like The Besnard Lakes’ previous releases. You would think that a band as wonderful and talented as The Besnard Lakes would want to try something new sound-wise five albums into their career? Apparently not with A Coliseum Complex Museum. It appears that The Besnard Lakes have continued their “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it mentality” into this album.
A Coliseum Complex Museum begins with the crypto-zoological animals being the track names: “The Brady Road Beast” and “Golden Lion.” I initially found the beginning of A Coliseum Complex Museum to be promising with the first track of “The Brady Road Beast” with its epic opening and lush guitar work throughout. Honestly, “The Brady Road Beast” is everything a lead album track is supposed to be with soaring harmonies (think Fleetwood Mac) and beautiful build-ups and quite moments. My expectations after “The Brady Road Beast” were high; maybe too far-fetched. Lasek was foretelling the rest my thoughts of this album while crooning in his signature falsetto voice, “this is the road to nowhere.”
The “big sound” that The Besnard Lakes is attempting to create on “Golden Lion” is somewhat feasible. The light, psychedelic melodies are appropriate in painting a creature as “golden” as it evokes shine, which is at least the imagery that I had mind while listening. Despite this somewhat warm feeling, “Golden Lion” lacks the hooks and is stagnant throughout (besides a few moments here and there) in that it’s not catchy. Typically an album’s second track is supposed to lock you in, but “Golden Lion” is doing the opposite.
“The Pressure of Our Plans” is lyrically cheesy to say the least. At this point, in The Besnard Lakes’ career, I honesty expect more than the substance-less lyrics from Lasek other than “All the pressure of our plans together make our heart turn into shades of gold.” The lackluster lyrics unfortunately diverted my attention from the otherwise swingy, airy vibe of this track, and the interplay of vocals between Lasek and Goreas.
One of the mistakes I believe the band made while sequencing the album is not putting one of the album’s best tracks, “Towers Sent Her to Sheets of Sound” in the second slot. If there is remotely one track on this album that actually will grab your attention, it’s this one. This song has distortions reminiscent from their 2003‘s debut Volume 1, and nice hooks throughout that makes it an enjoyable listen. Also, the “Golden Lion” makes another appearance in this track: “There’s a golden lion waiting on the rise.” I was hoping to hear more of this on A Coliseum Complex Museum.
“The Plain Moon” is perhaps the most distinct track off A Coliseum Complex Museum, and not in a good way. The song almost has a 1980s or even, I hate to say it, an industrial sound. It’s like Lasek wanted to vocally channel The Bee Gees. “The Plain Moon” sounds like Depeche Mode attempting to foray into shoegaze. Lyrically, it reminded me of their compatriots Metric’s song, “Gold Guns Girl,” because of their writing about guns: “Put those guns away.” For the most part, I found “The Plain Moon” to be uninspiring because the beat is stagnant and the lyrics repeat themselves excessively. If this is The Besnard Lake’s attempt at a dance song, then I’m not down. Hey, at least they are trying something different.
The Besnard Lakes used a reference from horror writer H.P. Lovecraft for the name of their track, “Necronomicon,” which is “a fictional grimoir (textbook of magic).” With this reference, I would have expected the sound to be dark in nature. In fact, it’s the opposite; it’s a light and airy number with mellow guitars. The Besnard Lakes has an opportunity to write a dramatic song with “Necronomicon,” and unfortunately didn’t capitalize. Rather, it’s a lackluster number with no variety musically.
If there is one song that reminds me of past distinctly, musically The Besnard Lakes songs, it’s “Nightingale.” This is a five minute-plus dark, brooding track with gentle keyboards with creative and ethereal imagery. There is variety galore with a quiet moment that allows the listener to take all in the song, and a sick keyboard solo at the 2:59 mark. This is the similar sound that I would have liked to see with “Necronomicon.”
The final track off A Coliseum Complex Museum is “Tungsten 4: The Refugee.” The Besnard Lakes are known for their sequential song titles in their releases. The first Tungsten-themed song, “Life Rarely Begins With Tungsten Film #1” was on Volume 1. Unlike the dissonance with “Life Rarely Begins With Tungsten Film #1,” the focal point of “Tungsten 4: The Refugee” is more on the guitar work. Tungsten is on the periodic table, and is Swedish for “heavy stone.” “Tungsten 4: The Refugee” definitely lives up to its namesake and brings the rock to an otherwise “meh” album.
A Coliseum Complex Museum is definitely not The Besnard Lakes’ greatest effort to date as they fail overall to evolve their sound. It’s a shame to see this with a band that has an enormous amount of untapped potential, as well as amazing live shows. Hopefully, on their future albums the band will realize their potential because trying something new isn’t always such a bad idea.