Named after an isolated Saskatchewan body of water, the Besnard Lakes make great use of a suggestion of emptiness, conveyed through songs that reverberate with maximalist rigidity. Full of distortion and bits of sampled sound, they reflect a kind of heady twist on the short-wave radio motif Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night employs, evoking the barren feel of frequencies ringing out through the night via a hashed assemblage of eerily blended styles.
Like 2007’s The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse, the album utilizes the eerie drone of numbers stations (mysterious fixed transmissions that loop endlessly, drab female voices reading numbers between tones and snatches of music) as an aesthetic marker, co-opting their ready-made mystique to add to the shadowy atmosphere. But this shared element is by no means a retread. Like two jazz improvisations, they stand out as twinned, dissimilar meditations on a similar theme.
This may just mean that the band has the early earmarks of a stunningly specific style, but for now it still comes off as genuine and fresh. “Like the Ocean, Like the Innocent” rides in on a thrumming wave of noise, setting the tone for the lashing waves of distortion that gather around the vocals. Creeping through 10 orchestrally blended tracks over 50 minutes, these songs move slowly, like hypnotic, crenellating dreams plucked straight out of the air.
There are distinct differences from Dark Horse, which favored mounting progressions that slowly wrapped themselves in effects. Roaring Night has more patience and a great focus on album-wide ambiance, the songs melting into each other rather than standing out as singular peaks. There’s also a noticeable Jesus and Mary Chain feel, layered over the sunny-voiced vibe that has become a trademark, with Olga Goreas’s increased vocal contribution creating interplay between the two singers.
The vocals are another of those persistent markers that give the band’s music a peculiar, timeless aura. A nearly constant invocation of surf-pop harmonies, stretched out to pleasingly strange effect, match the undulating downtide of the songs, one cresting over the other. The lyrical insufficiency that emerges, a favoring of repetition and mood over actual content, therefore feels nearly earned, the words used less as a tool of expression than in service of the music itself.
There are times when Roaring Night is disconcertingly slack. Tracks like “Glass Printer” spend a long time going nowhere, treading along flat lines with very little buildup. But even weaker songs are still not a wasted trip, flickering with sharp moments and dazzling effects. In this way, the album asserts itself as a refreshingly pointed piece of chamber pop, a starkly serious work that plays as big but never portentous.