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For the final three minutes of Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO the listener hears a whirring, ambient loop - a stark contrast to the heavy stabs of guitar and synthesiser that sounded like the very cracking of the sky itself. 'Alamogordo' capped off a slower, mellower record than we were used to from The Besnard Lakes and this slow burn of a finale felt like the perfect sign-off, it was meditative - almost calming. By contrast A Coliseum Complex Museum ends with a stunning, soaring squall of guitars; the band breaking free of the steady groove that characterised the early minutes of 'Tungsten 4: The Refugee'.
The Besnard Lakes are one of those bands where it often feels right to start at the end and work backwards. In a sense, their music has often focused itself on endings and climaxes - both musically and thematically. On previous records the spectres of death, war and heartbreak weighed heavy, but here the overarching themes focus more on escape - from forces unknown, and from reality itself. There's always been an element of fiction, perhaps even fantasy about the band, particularly in Jace Lasek's spy-turned-musician songs, but on A Coliseum Complex Museum the band takes it a step further with all manner of beasts and spectres haunting the album's protagonists.
The band have spoken about how they approached the recording with a slightly more relaxed attitude. Whilst Until In Excess was refined and perfected to create a rich, textured record, A Coliseum Complex Museum saw the band embracing first takes, and leaving in environmental inconsistencies. The drums of 'Necronomicon', for example, were recorded in Lasek's basement with a single mic sat on the floor - originally only intended to be a demo when they were taken to the studio he decided that he wanted to keep that sound - that spirit - in the track. In some respects, it harkens back to the rock legends that The Besnard Lakes are often compared to, particularly the recording practices of Led Zeppelin at Bron-yr-aur.
The result is a record which blends the hazy, slow burn of Until In Excess with the harder rock of Dark Horse and Roaring Night. Album opener 'The Bray Road Beast' begins with soft percussion like that of a steam engine, whilst above a beautiful amalgamation of plucked guitars and Lasek's melancholic falsetto offer a hint of fantasy. Synthesisers whirl in and out before deeper, reverberated guitar sounds enter. It's an opener that exhibits the very best of The Besnard Lakes, their ability to create hypnotic, expansive psych-rock that draws you into a sonic world unlike anything else. Their sound is so thick, so densely textured that it's like being enveloped in a cocoon of sounds. So much so that it makes the moments of silence, or quiet middle eights all the more affecting.
Take for instance the quiet combination of xylophone and ambient electronics that takes centre stage during 'Nightingale'. The track itself presents a rather mournful, pessimistic tone with a steady groove that is probably the closest this record really gets to the shoegaze of Until In Excess, so when the waves of guitar, drums and vocal harmonies subside to reveal just the slow twinkling of a xylophone, lost in the midst of ephemeral noise it's genuinely heartbreaking. "No one comes for me," Lasek sings when the music returns the ambiguity resting on whether that's a good or a bad thing - or whether the protagonist is even sure of the difference.
'The Plain Moon', one of the tracks debuted before the album's release, couldn't be more different to 'Nightingale'. Opening with percussion and descending organ notes it quickly switches gear into a largely percussive track, with guitars and keys violently cutting into the track during the verses before becoming more prominent in the chorus. It's one of the few moments that Olga Goreas takes centre stage as a vocalist on A Coliseum Complex Museum and comes across as a bittersweet treat given the rather chaotic structure of the track. Personally, I wish Goreas was featured more, as she's often provided The Besnard Lakes best tracks, whereas here she's largely singing backing harmonies.
Despite this criticism, A Coliseum Complex Museum is everything you could ask for from a Besnard Lakes record. The blend of psychedelic, stoner riffs and driving percussion on tracks like 'Towers Sent Her to Sheets of Sound' sits comfortably alongside the quiet waltz of 'Necronomicon' and exhibits just how exciting, thrilling and moving rock can be - even today as publications wring their hands over its supposed death. It might not push their sound in the way that Until In Excess did, but when the harmonies glide, the chords wash over and the solos soar, it matters not one bit. This is music at its most intoxicating, its most expansive - put those headphones on and slip away.
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