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The Occasion - The Occasion

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Artist: The Occasion

Album: The Occasion

Label: self-released

Review date: Jan. 23, 2004

Brooklyn’s The Occasion don’t rely on syncopation or start-stop rhythms, which is to say, they’re a refreshing change from what most media outlets portray as the New York scene. The quintet of Jordi Wheeler, Charles Burst, Brent Cordero, Marlon Sporer and Sarah Shaw are a grim bunch, paranoid while patient, weaving lonesome at 50 bpm. Their dry, dark sound wouldn’t be out of place in the middle of the Arizona desert, but in the sweltering spotlight of Williamsburg, it qualifies as rarefied air.

The group’s self-released debut EP takes that desert session atmosphere and smothers it in a claustrophobic caress. The sound can best be described as the For Carnation feasting on Calexico; too determined to stop, but too slow to escape the vultures circling overhead. It’s a heavy record, one that at seven songs can sometimes feel like 180 gram double vinyl.

The opening “The Midwife” features drummer Burst on vocals with just a hint of delay, like the echo in some dusty catacomb. He sings: “And if I was a servant girl, would you treat me the same? / Blow the dust from my grave / keep the ivy at bay.” Plodding away as the cymbals quietly roar in the background, the song ends with Wheeler repeating, "It’s all the same to me…" as the last remnants of hope scurry for the exits.

Wheeler, who sings the rest of the songs here, has an archaic appeal, paced and deliberate, slightly reminiscent of Nick Cave. There’s some entrancing keyboard work by Cordero, illuminated all the more by its stark surroundings. It’s the highlight of the relatively up-tempo “The Deserters” and, along with Sporer, builds the foundation of the basophobic “I Can’t Stop Falling,” a title that captures The Occasion’s appeal quite nicely.

The best song on the album is the unmuddied “A Dulcimer’s Fancy.” The production may be iffy elsewhere on the EP, but the measured combination of Sporer’s bass and Burst’s high-hat trill sound like clockwork here. Wheeler strains at times during the song, and the lyrics are rather obscure, but the synergy of all five members, including Shaw’s wavering background drones, make this a success.

The poorly recorded live finale “Annika” is the only blemish on this otherwise impressive debut. The Occasion do not fit the stereotypes perpetuated by their borough brethren, which may be why they released this EP on their own. If they continue this unbeaten path, they won’t stay unsigned for long.

The Occasion’s album is available only from Other Music.

By Otis Hart

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