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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
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The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
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No Age - Everything in Between
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Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Fat Possum
The Besnard Lakes
The Besnard Lakes are the Dark Horse

Rating: 8/10 ?

March 30, 2007
They predict that one day Tucson and Phoenix will merge into one giant megalopolis. Perhaps in this dystopian future touring bands will play smack dab in the middle, right where Casa Grande now sits. Until then, I will find myself making the two hour trip north to catch certain groups who choose to play "The Next L.A." over "The Old Pueblo." I recently did just this to see the next-great-Montreal-band, The Besnard Lakes, at a nifty little art studio/bar called The Paper Heart. As I pulled into the parking lot, the group was sitting outside enjoying the balmy pre-summer night. I sidled up next to them and we conversed about their drive down from the Great White North to the Great Dry Southwest, and how on the way over from Albuquerque they got lost and almost drove to Tucson. Darn, could've saved me that drive.

The Besnard Lakes played a solid, if short, set to a very modest crowd, and impressed me to such a degree that I had to grab their album, The Besnard Lakes are the Dark Horse. On stage, the group consists of three guitars, bass, keys, drums and fog machine. Yes, this is a band that loves Seventies kitsch, and even campy music from that era; Leo Sayer and Marty Balin came up in our conversation, as did those Time-Life infomercials that plug high spot compilations from music collections that would take an individual hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to assemble. Influences aside, the band sounds very current, especially on record. If there is a trace of that decade to be heard, it is in the smooth-and-soothe style that saturates the album.

Are the Dark Horse opens with a stunner called "Disaster." A falsetto vocal, "Baby I've got some words for you," is joined by a subtle arrangement of plucking strings, French horn, flute and saxophone before building into a controlled swell of guitar, bass and drums. It sets the tone perfectly, as it becomes increasingly clear that The Besnard Lakes are meticulous musicians who bring a whole slew of instruments into the studio, creating a soundscape that pulls the listener in, slowly and persistently. "For Agent 13" starts with a soft piano part, before adding organ and glockenspiel; it also features alternating male and female vocals courtesy of the husband and wife team that front the band, Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas. The song follows a similar arc as the one before, incorporating crescendo and release. Unlike fellow Canadians Arcade Fire, who exploit a range of instruments for emotional surges, The Besnard Lakes keep things more reserved. Nowhere is this more apparent than on "Devastation," a song that has all the ingredients to be an outpouring of emo: multiple drum, guitar and bass tracks forcefully playing determined riffs, bombastic anti-war lyrics and a backing choir repeating "Aggravation" and "Devastation." Even still, the song has an element of restraint, without being aloof. As The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse moves forward it also takes on the flavor of late-Sixties fuzzy pop. The Beach Boys are an obvious influence on closer "Cedric's War", a brisk strummer of a tune complete with "doo-wop" backing vocals that would make Brian Wilson smile.

Taken as a whole, The Besnard Lakes display a unique style, a winning combination of intriguing songwriting and diverse arrangements. Mostly, they are about juxtapositions: the songs are long without being jammy; they have a large sound but don't overwhelm. I was told that the band got its name from a beautiful lake in the remote Saskatchewan region of Canada, and in a way it fits them to a tee. Their sound has an air of striking isolation, one that is rewarding when discovered. Indeed, they may be the dark horse of bands riding down from the north.

Reviewed by Ari Shapiro
A staff writer for LAS, Ari Shapiro mixes up pretty unique smoothies at XOOM in hot Tucson.

See other reviews by Ari Shapiro



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