Deriving their name Besnard Lake in North Central Saskatchewan, the acclaimed, multi-Polaris Music Prize-nominated Montreal-based indie rock act The Besnard Lakes — currently, husband and wife duo Jace Lasek (vocals, guitar, bass, drums, keys) and Olga Goreas (vocals, bass), along with Kevin Laing (drums), Richard White (guitar), Sheenah Ko (keys) and Robbie MacArthuer (guitar) — formed back in 2003. And since their formation, the Canadian indie rock sextet have released five albums of atmospheric and textured shoegaze that some critics have described as magisterial and cinematic.
After the release of their fifth album, 2016’s A Coliseum Complex Museum, the members of The Besnard Lakes and Jagjaguwar, their longtime label home, decided it was time to part and go their separate ways. Naturally, that lead to the band to question whether or not it made sense to even continue together. But fueled by their love for each other and for playing music together, the members of acclaimed Montreal-based act wound up writing and recording what may arguably be their most uncompromising album of their catalog, The Besnard Lakes Are The Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings.
Dispensing with a timeline, the members of The Besnard Lakes took all the time they needed to conceive, write, record and mix the album’s material. Interestingly, some of the songs are old, tracing their origins back to resurrected demos left on the shelf years ago. Others were woodshedded in the cabin behind Lasek and Goreas Riguad Ranch — with the band relishing a rougher, grittier sound. Thematically, the album finds the band contemplating the darkness of dying , the light on the other side, and coming back from the brink: while it touches upon the band’s own story, it’s also remembrance of dear loved ones — particularly Lasek’s father, who died last year. (On vinyl, the album will be a four-side double LP: Side 1 is titled “Near Death.” Side 2 is titled “Death.” Side 3 is titled “After Death.” and Side 4 is titled “Life.”)
From what Lasek observed of his father’s experience, being on one’s deathbed may be the most intense psychedelic trip of anyone’s life: at one point, Lasek’s father surfaced from a morphine-induced dream, talking about how he saw a “window” on his blanket, with “a carpenter inside of it, making objects.” Interestingly, as I read that, I thought of what were Steve Jobs’ last words before dying — him looking past his loved ones and simply saying repeatedly “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.” And as a result that surreal and ethereal quality pervades the album’s sound and aesthetic.
“Raindrops,” the album’s first single is a slow-burning song and patient song with a painterly-like attention to graduation and texture, centered around shimmering reverb-drenched guitars, twinkling and arpeggiated keys, thunderous drumming, ethereal boy-girl harmonies and a euphoric hook. Along with the release of The Besnard Lakes Are The Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warning’s cinematic first single, the band announced that the album is slated for a January 29, 2021 release through Fat Cat Records here in the States and through Flemish Eye in their native Canada. Additionally, they released a surreal, fever-dream of a video directed by Joseph Yarrmush.
“This song and video details a psychedelic flight through the mind while deep in an altered state,” The Besnard Lakes explain. “The song lyrically references the death of Mark Hollis from Talk Talk (‘Garden of Eden spirited’) and also describes the idea of evolution determining the story of the Garden of Eden.
Helene Alexandra Jæger is a Norwegian-born, Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and creative mastermind behind the rising recording project Holy Boy. Recorded at Ben Hillier’s London-based Pool Studios, Jæger’s 2017 Holy Boy self-titled debut was released to widespread critical acclaim with EP single “The Blood Moon” receiving airplay on BBC Radio 1 while establishing her sound – a sound that takes cues from The Velvet Underground and Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden, Suicide, the dark side of the 60s, vintage girl bands and West Coast hip-hop and she has dubbed “neon gothic.” Thematically, the Norwegian-born, Los Angeles-based artist’s work focuses on “explorations in consciousness,” she explains in press notes.
Building upon a growing profile, Jæger performed sets at that year’s CMJ, NXNE and SXSW. She followed that up with the critically applauded single “Elegy,” which The Line of Best Fit described as being “at once eclectic and utterly immersive; smoky and classic, yet simultaneously futuristic.”
Much like the countless emerging artists I’ve covered on this site over the past decade, Jæger began the year with big plans to boost her profile and her career that included booked sets at this year’s SXSW, which would have corresponded with the release of the first single off her forthcoming 11 song, full-length debut, which is slated for release this summer. Of course, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, SXSW was cancelled while countless other festivals, tours and shows were postponed until later this year. Interestingly, the album’s first single was released last month – and it turns out to be an eerily fitting and timely cover of The Doors’ classic “Riders On The Storm.” Centered around layers of shimmering organs, including Hammond, Rhodes, Optigan and Vox Continental, vintage 70s drum machines and 80s Casio synths, along with Jæger’s dusky vocals drenched in gentle reverb, delay and other ethereal effects, the Norwegian-born, Los Angeles-based artist’s haunting and cinematic rendition retains the somber and brooding tone of the original while adding that seemingly unending sense of dread and uncertainty that we’ve all felt in our lives over the past month or so.
The accompanying video is fittingly creepy and yet highly symbolic: it features a lo-fi, computer generated skeleton in space, walking up a never-ending staircase.
I recently exchanged emails with Jæger for this Q&A. Current events have impacted all of us – and they’ve found a way to bleed into our personal and professional lives in ways that will likely reverberate for some time to come. Because she had plans to play at SXSW until it was canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we chat briefly about how the pandemic has impacted her and her career. But the bulk of our conversation, we chat about her attention- grabbing cover of The Doors’ classic tune, and what we should expect from her forthcoming debut. Check it out below.
___ WRH: Most parts of the country are enacting social distancing guidelines as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here in New York, we’ve been social distancing and in-quarantine for the better part of three weeks. It’s been tough – but it’s for the greater good. How are you holding up?
Helene Alexandra Jæger: I love New York, and it’s crazy what’s happening right now. I hope it turns around and that we all learn something from this that can save lives in the future and now. Here in L.A., we’ve been at home for three or four weeks — I can’t even remember — and most things have been shut since then. It’s been strict, but I’m grateful for that – better safe than sorry in this type of a situation.
I’m lucky as an introvert, I’m quite comfortable spending time on my own reading, exploring info online, creating and listening to music.
WRH: You were about to release new material at around the time that SXSW had to cancel because of the COVID-19 pandemic. How has COVID-19 impacted you and your career at the moment?
HAJ: The cancellation came so suddenly; the whole festival was shut down less than a week before I was headed there to showcase my album live for the first time. I feel the cancellation of SXSW was a turnaround, for the first time people started to realize how serious this outbreak might get…
Until that, most people I heard from thought the danger was exaggerated, and so I’m really glad the city of Austin made a firm decision, because I don’t know what the situation would have been like if 60,000 people had gathered for SXSW as planned, just a few weeks back.
Since this outbreak, I’ve been trying to manage the “Riders On The Storm” release that was too late to cancel — and somehow turned out to be more poignant right now than I’d ever expected.
I was planning to release my debut album this spring, was working on music video plans, and had live shows in the pipeline around the release, but that’s all on ice now. The good thing is, I get to create more and spend time making more music. I also have a poetry collection I’ve been working on for a while, and it’s given me time to focus on that and prepare for that release.
WRH: How would you describe your sound, for those unfamiliar to you and Holy Boy’s sound?
HAJ: This is always tricky. I feel like it’s a world where it’s dark, but there are neon lights on, and you can see the stars and the moon. There’s a dreamy quality to it, but it can also get gritty and sensual. I sometimes think of it as Moon in Scorpio, 5th house, that’s my placement. It’s a dark and deep place where there’s sometimes a feeling of being closer to space than earth. Musically, I call it Neon Gothic or LA noir, organ rock.
WRH: Who are your influences?
HAJ: I love all kinds of music, but for this coming album, I’ve been immersing myself in what felt like it resonated with the emotions in those songs. Songs like “No Quarter” by Led Zeppelin, David Bowie’s Blackstar album, “Nikes” by Frank Ocean, Suicide and songs by The Shangri-La’s, Johnny Jewel’s work . . .
WRH: Who are you listening to right now?
HAJ: I’m really enjoying the Spotify Discover Weekly playlist where the algorithm presents you with music it thinks you’ll like, and I’ve been going on a deep dive based on doing research for a TV idea I’ve been working on… A beautiful and uplifting raw song I think everyone could benefit from right now is an old gospel type recording “Like A Ship” by Pastor T.L. Barrett and The Youth for Christ Choir… I think it’s a really inspiring song for this time.
I’ve also been listening to demos and outtakes from Bob Dylan’s “Blonde On Blonde” sessions and it’s been such a revelation to hear how incredibly different the other takes were… To see how fluid his process was, that a song like “Like A Rolling Stone” ended up the way we know it, when the other takes were so different… There’s a real magic to it. Like listening into an alternate reality.
WRH: You recently released an eerie and ominous cover of The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.” I think if Jim Morrison was alive today, he would have really dug what you did with the song. What drew you to the song? Have the living members of The Doors heard the song? If they did, what did they think of it?
HAJ: That means a lot to me, thank you so much. I know he had an interest in the worlds beyond and the nature of life and death, which I personally resonate with, so it was a great experience to channel one of his/their songs . . .
One of the reasons I was drawn to making a cover of “Riders On The Storm”, besides being a huge fan of The Doors, is it feels like a seeker’s song, and it felt like a kindred spirit to the way I look at the world. A sense of not quite being at home and not quite belonging on earth.
From what I know, they haven’t heard it, but I really hope they would enjoy my version. I hope they are all safe and well, all four of them in this world and the other.
WRH: The recent video for “Riders on the Storm” features a computer-animated skeleton in space, walking up an infinite staircase. It’s fittingly ominous and as eerie. How did you come about this treatment – and what is it supposed to represent?
HAJ: When I saw Andrei/@dualvoidanimafff’s lofi retro futuristic animations online, I knew I wanted to work on something with him. For “Riders On The Storm”, I just saw this idea of a skeleton walking up a never-ending staircase in space… Like man’s ascension, our eternal human quest to become more or to rise out of the limitations of physical life, to reach this idea of heaven or perfection… It felt to me like a logical depiction of the song’s theme, “Riders On The Storm”… The impossibility of our pursuit, but also the beauty – that throughout history we’ve never stopped trying.
WRH: You have an album slated for a late August release. What should we expect from the album?
HAJ: My version of “Riders On The Storm” is definitely in the same world that the record takes place in. An otherworldly atmosphere built around Hammond/Rhodes/Optigan organs, Vox Continentals, vintage 70s drum machines and obscure 80s Casio synths. It’s definitely a nighttime record, it’s happening in the dark, songs that I hope can be cathartic in a time like this and what most likely lies ahead.
Fronted by its Cleveland-born, Salt Lake City-based founder, frontman and creative mastermind, singer/songwriter Adam Klopp, the rising indie pop act Choir Boy derives its name from an insult that was given to Klopp in his early teens when he fronted some of his earliest bands. Given Klopp’s religious upbringing and angelic voice, the insult at the time, may have been both fair and fitting.
After graduating high school, Klopp left Ohio for college in Utah. Although, his college career was short-lived, he left religion behind and quickly integrated into Provo’s and Salt Lake City’s underground music and art scenes, eventually starting Choir Boy. With the release of the project’s full-length debut, 2016’s Passive With Desire, Klopp’s work drew comparisons to Scott Walker, Kate Bush and Talk Talk.
Klopp’s Choir Boy debut won the attention of Dais Records, and building upon a growing profile, he released “Sunday Light” in 2018, which was followed by a reissue of Passive With Desire on vinyl and CD. Recently, Klopp has filled out the band with a permanent lineup: Chaz Costello (bass, sax), Jeff Kleinman (keys) and Michael Paulson (guitar). Each member has brought their unique influences to the table, helping to develop subtly more dynamic sound for the band — one in which, there’s a bit of post-punk grit and 80s-influenced swing to the mix.
Slated for a May 8, 2020 release, Choir Boy’s sophomore album Gathering Swans is the first bit of recorded output with the band’s new lineup. And importantly, while seemingly drawing from Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry, The Cleaners from Venusand others, the material features Klopp’s achingly earnest and angelic falsetto, expressing those emotions that are particularly difficult to name.
The album’s first single is the dance floor friendly “Complainer.” Centered around shimmering synth arpeggios, some industrial-like drum machine and organic drumming, a looping and shimmering guitar line, an ehe enormous and rousingly anthemic hook and Klopp’s achingly tender falsetto, the song — to my ears, at least — seems like a synthesis between Meat Is Murder-era The Smiths, Tears for Fears and contemporaries like Washed Out. Interestingly, Klopp explains that the song “marked a shift in lyrical tone from previous releases. While many of our earlier songs serve as flowery lamentations of loss and grief, ‘Complainer’ snakily examines the self absorption of sadness. The opening line Oh my life was something I privately uttered while stewing over daily anxieties. It became comical to me that I would express my self pity like that, in earnest when my struggles seemed so relatively tame. The song continues, It’s a phrase so funny when it’s spoken so sincere. But it’s not that bad, I’ve never really had it worse. I’m just a complainer. ‘Complainer’ multi-tasks as a pop song and a reminder to keep my privilege in check.”
Directed by the members of Choir Boy, edited by Choir Boy’s Adam Klopp and featuring an action cameo by Sam Rodriguez, the recently released video for “Complainer” is a decidedly lo-fi, fittingly 80s-inspired visual split between footage of the band playing the song in random locations while mischievously revealing the band’s involvement in a seedy, back alley, Fight Club-like fighting ring.
Earlier this year, I wrote about the rapidly rising New York-based avant garde/experimental act Activity. Now, as you may recall, the act which features Grooms‘ Travis Johnson (vocals, sampler) and Steve Levine (drums), Field Mouse‘s Zoe Browne (bass) and Russian Baths‘ Jess Rees have received attention across the blogosphere for a natural, minimal and intelligent use of modern production paired with organic instrumentation.
Their Jeff Berner-produced full-length debut Unmask Whoever is slated for a March 27, 2020 release through Western Vinyl, and the album’s material reportedly sees its creators ability gel with one another to reach new levels of interplay and cooperation to form a menacing and uneasy framework — with which they pair lyrical themes of paranoia, exposed character flaws and the broader human capacity for growth when an ugly truth is laid bare. “Calls Your Name” was centered around an atmospheric, uneasy and menacing Geoff Barrow-like production featuring woozy and shimmering synth arpeggios, and a relentless stuttering beat paired with half-song half-spoken lyrics inspired by C.S. Lewis’ 1945 novel The Great Divorce.
“Earth Angel,” Unmask Whoever‘s latest single is slow-burning, minimal “Earth Angel.” Centered around twinkling synth arpeggios, blasts of feedback and distortion-effected pedals, the track features what may arguably be one of the most painful sounding vocals I’ve heard in some time, as vocalist Travis Johnson’s voice stars off as a whisper before turning into a vocal cord tearing shout.
It’s a song about the freedom of a lifelong love” vocalist Travis Johnson explains. “I think we were going for a very Talk TalkLaughing Stock vibe in general. The vocals at the end physically hurt to perform… I could taste blood.”
Activity has a handful of live dates, including two NYC area dates: February 27, 2020 at Union Pool and an April 2, 2020 release party show at Baby’s All Right. Check out the tour dates below.
02/27: Brooklyn, NY – Union Pool
04/02: Brooklyn, NY – Baby’s All Right (Release Party)
Earlier this year, I wrote about Minneapolis, MN-based multi-instrumetnlist and vocalist Andy Larson and his solo recording project Magnetic Ghost — and interestingly enough because the Magnetic Ghost project’s sound possesses elements of shoegaze, drone, krautrock, freak folk and post-punk, Larson’s work has been compared favorably Low, Sonic Youth, Popul Vuh, Talk Talk, Women, Flying Saucer Attack, and others, and as a result, Larson has opened for a diverse array of artists including Low’s Alan Sparhawk, Will Oldham, Bitchin Bajas, The Telescopes, Flavor Crystals and others. Further cementing a growing regional and national profile, Larson released his latest Magnetic Ghost album Loss Molecules last month, an effort that was recorded with renowned indie rock producer Neil Weir at Blue Bell Knoll and by Larson at Magnetic Manson.
The album’s first single “Vanish/Vanishing” featured Larson’s plaintive and ethereal vocals paired with layers of droning and shimmering guitars, a propulsive bass line and stuttering drumming in a moody bit of shoegaze that sounded as though it could have been released by Silber Records. Loss Molecules’ latest single “Landfill” manages to evoke a malevolent storm of privation, desperation, brutality and the end of things we were all familiar with and loved are on the horizon. And that shouldn’t be surprising as Larson explained to me via email, “Landfill” is “”a song truly about the lead up to this particular point in American politics we find ourselves in — the horrible mash up of celeb culture, consumerism, and politics amidst decay.”
Produced by Chase Butler, the recently released music video for “Landfill” captures both greed and decay with a stark and haunting beauty that suggests that the end result of our ambitions, of our constantly exploited and desperate need for stuff and of our dreams is decay.
Larson’s forthcoming Magnetic Ghost album, Loss Molecules was recorded with renowned indie rock producer Neil Weir at Blue Bell Knoll and by Larson at Magnetic Manson and the effort is slated for a November 18, 2016 release. “Vanish/Vanishing,” Loss Molecules’ latest single has Larson pairing layers of plaintive and ethereal vocals with moody and hypnotic instrumentation consisting of layers of droning and shimmering guitars, a propulsive bass line and stuttering drumming. Sonically speaking, the song reminds me quite a bit of the Silber Records roster.
The recently released video for the song features cinematic and widescreen shot footage of natural phenomenon — i.e., the sun rising in the horizon from the distance, as cars whir past, wind blowing through fields of grain, ice floes in the Arctic, smoke billowing from smokestacks, and so on. It looks like the sort of footage you’d stumble across while watching National Geographic specials — and as a result, it emphasizes the slow-burning, dreamy feel of the song.
Comprised of Dario Torre (vocals and guitar), Giacomo Salzano (bass guitar), Raffaele Bocchetti (guitar), and Davide Fusco (drums), the Italian psych rock quartet Stella Diana have gradually developed a national reputation for a sound that draws […]
Fronted by Ryan Trauley, the Raleigh, NC-based quintet Oulipo have been praised across the blogosphere for a lush and complex pop sound that manages to be both intimate and anthemic. Of course, that shouldn’t be […]