An apocalyptic study in psychedelic prog
The Besnard Lakes have been basking in the glory of psychedelia-inflected rock for nearly two decades at this point, and they show no signs of stopping. After five well-regarded albums though (and two Polaris Price nominations), the band has found themselves surrounded by a whirlwind of disasters. Whether it be our many intersecting global crises, the inner turmoil of the band members or some other factor, the stresses of today have led The Besnard Lakes to the vast and complex land of prog rock. On The Besnard Lakes Are The Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings, the group attempts to address, through the power of massive and impressive prog song structures, the agonizingly slow yet comically massive nature of the threats we face today.
“Blackstrap” kicks off the album with some deceptively twinkly synths, before the guitarists take the wheel, and start to explore the depths of these so-called Great Thunderstorm Warnings. The ethereal vocals, plodding drums and ever-present dial tone imbue a sense of paranoia that crescendos throughout the song. Quite a way to start the album.
The explosive “Raindrops” takes a slightly different tone, touching on the hope that can somehow survive that intense paranoia in lyrics like, “On the other side of the world/ Is my backyard/ Gardеn of Eden spirited.” “Christmas Can Wait,” a beautifully melancholy cut, taps into the power of drawn out synths to further develop the epic prog structure of the album (and many of the individual tracks). While it’s one of the slower tracks on the album, synths weave in and out of themselves, the guitar and the piano in a compelling way, and it all comes to a deeply satisfying conclusion after about eight minutes.
The apocalypse continues on the project’s second act. The vocals and guitar work on, “Our Heads, Our Hearts on Fire Again” are fantastic, invoking a desire to be overwhelmed by exploration and all the wonder that exists in the beautiful world. “Feuds With Guns,” one of the most straightforward tracks on the album (clocking in at a comparatively brief four-and-a-half minutes), employs a string section to great effect as the band explores longing, and the need for a sense of romantic permanence. “The Dark Side of Paradise” is the band’s biggest misstep. With track lengths like what The Besnard Lakes have chosen on this journey, there is no room for musical fat. Unfortunately, while the track is mostly passable (it definitely still taps into the ethereal vastness that permeates this whole project), it drags more than any other eight consecutive minutes on the album. There just isn’t enough going on on top of these all too familiar synths.
The Besnard Lakes Are The Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings comes to a truly cathartic and life-affirming close on the final three tracks. “New Revolution” meets the existential challenges present on this album with a newfound fervor, in the form of newly energized drums, purposeful vocal, and a select few hard-hitting guitar explosions. The unusually sparing instrumentation, airy vocals and slowly building structure on “The Father of Time Wakes Up” smoothly introduces the 18-minute odyssey that is “Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings.” This behemoth of a closer is exactly what this album deserves; a symphonic amalgamation of everything the group has done right. Explosive vocals, hammering drums and thoughtful drones abound—you’ll have to listen to believe it.
As a civilization, people are staring down the barrel of more than few existential crises. Take climate change, for example (the proliferation of nuclear weapons also works). It hangs over people like an ambiguous dark cloud, already affecting many individuals’ lives directly, patiently waiting to wreak further havoc upon many vulnerable populations in essentially every region of the world. The Besnard Lakes recognizes the existence of these clouds of suffering and destruction, but also refuses to back down. Tracks like “Raindrops,” “Christmas Can Wait” and “New Revolution” suggest active engagement with these existential fears, while also implying that things are from over. There’s always a tinge of hope.
Perhaps The Besnard Lakes Are The Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings’s cover is just a metaphor for the gulf at which people find themselves; surrounded by different shades of darkness and disaster, yet still hopeful, still reaching for the light. On this project, The Besnard Lakes explore that darkness, that light and everything in between through a masterclass in the musical and emotional push and pull that makes great prog rock so distinctly rewarding.