UFO is good, but something got lost
by John Cameron
Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO
In advance interviews for this new album, the Besnard Lakes’ co-frontperson (and Saskatchewan expat) Jace Lasek talks about the influence of the movement-filled pop of early Wings and the Beach Boys on his band’s songwriting. Sure, most of the songs on Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO would only be beach-ready if the beach in question was being roved by Curiosity. Nevertheless, the band’s meticulous attention to rich detail and complex structures signals some serious orchestral pop fetishism.
Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO is both dreamlike and sharply focused. Songs like “The Specter” and “Colour Yr Lights In” sound like the Byrds played at skull-splitting volume on the other side of Phil Spector’s wall of sound. The record’s cohesiveness comes at a price, though: where the aforementioned skull-splitting on previous Besnard Lakes records was visceral and immediate –– Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse opener “Disaster” rudely interrupted its “God Only Knows” pastiche with guttural rock guitar ––it’s now just part of the band’s gauzy fabric. You can tell that, for instance, “People of the Sticks”, with its spy fiction chord changes and Zuma-like rumble, probably kills live. But in UFO’s context it glides just over your head.
In the end, it’s sort of fine. Records like UFO are meant for you to crank up and bliss out to, and the Besnard Lakes have done a great job with that. It’s just a shame that the best way to enjoy their developing sense of focus is to shut off part of your brain.
Stop Thinking So Much
They’re back! You guys, The Bicycles are back! What have they been doing for the last three years? I’ll tell you what: not being The Bicycles. But not to worry. With Stop Thinking So Much, Toronto’s most polished chamber pop butlers are serving us even sweeter, more complex and altogether more accomplished songs than their albums from the 2000s. The mid-’60s pop harmonies can still be heard on tracks like the sunny “Congratulations” and “Sun Don’t Want to End”, but The Bicycles have extended their reach into a pan-retro style that sounds like a greatest hits compilation from a parallel universe. Some awesome world where fun never dies. /Aidan Morgan
I knew I was going to love this album right from the first track, “Power Lines”, which opens with quiet acoustic strumming then roars to life with a blast of electric riffing and pop vocals in the grand tradition of Cheap Trick’s “Surrender”. But amazingly, it doesn’t sound like mere ’70s homage –– it has its own personality.
The mastermind behind this project is 26-year-old Seattle musician Michael Benjamin Lerner, who embeds his diverse influences throughout the record. On “Ever True”, it’s as though he dusted off British new wave group Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark’s old keyboards and is living out his Pretty in Pink fantasies. We also get sunny ballads in the vein of Big Star (“Lean on Me”) and dreamy experiments (“Ghosts and Creatures”). The common thread throughout is smart, succinct songwriting and high-spirited music that demands your full attention. /Gillian Mahoney
Mark Arm has the Iggy Pop, wild-man air down, but his life’s no model for self-abandon. Far from Pop’s reckless attitude or the “slacker” tag for the Seattle grunge scene his band, Mudhoney, spearheaded, he works for a living when not making music. (Funny enough, his job is running the warehouse of his label, Sub Pop.)
He seems to have his place in life figured out on their new album, Vanishing Point.
He treats the subjects directly, plainly on “I Like it Small” and with a metaphorical flourish on “The Only Son of the Widow from Nain”. Mostly, his strengths lie in performance over lyricism (is he coming up with the chorus to “What to Do with the Neutral” as he goes along?). The band matches him, working in two modes: one loud and distorted around thin threads of songs, and the other crunchy, bruising rock they’ve fallen into later in their careers. /James Brotheridge