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The Occasion, ‘The Occasion’ (Say Hey)

The cover of the Occasion’s self-titled debut album shows the buttes and sagebrush of a barren desert scape. The small mounds of lonely dirt languishing under a searing blue sky are appropriate for the music that lies within this spare and rather morose CD. It’s the kind of music I’d play for a cowboy’s funeral.

The Occasion contains elements of country, psychedelia, and ambient all mixed into a series of dirges and narratives. Often independent music cannot be sad without being whiny or flippant because indie rockers are terrified of being earnest. As a result, they embrace irony to the detriment of real meaning. The Occasion manages to be depressed with gravity and without the self-pity that marks the legions of complaint rockers that seem to be so popular these days.

What makes The Occasion stoic as opposed to maudlin is the inventive use of tape loops – cyclical and ephemeral snippets of electronics that are woven through their songs. Though the use of tape loops can sometimes create effects that sound like Dark Side of the Moon rip-offs, the Occasion’s Sara Shaw uses this repetitive technique to give songs like “I Can’tStop Falling,” and “Ease Away,” a richness that adds another level of severity to the compositions.

The highlight of this album is “A Dulcimer’s Fancy.” With phrases like “touching a dulcimer’s fancy,” and “eaten out by a moth,” “A Dulcimer’s Fancy,” walks that fine line between nonsensical and dirty that results in the lyrics sounding both deep and drug-addled at the same time. The sense of sensuality in”A Dulcimer’s Fancy,” is intensified by a seductive baseline and the almost moaning harmonies of singers Brent Cordero, Jordi Wheeler, and Charles Burst.

There is something desperate about the Occasion’s sound that is captured best by the song “I Can’t Stop Falling.” The vocals on this track are reminiscent of a young Isaac Brock (lead singer of Modest Mouse), and they suggest someone who has given into his depression. This sad cowboy has resigned himself to being tied up “head over foot, like some pigheaded for slaughter.”

Where the album falls short is in the final song, “Annika,” a nearly ten-minute track that devolves into guitar feedback and excessive use of the tape loops that seem so innovative when used sparingly on the other tracks. On”Annika,” the distorted reverberations go on so long that they are almost masturbatory.

This is the perfect album for those of you who like to go wandering into the “wide open sky,” but if you’re looking for the happy, Disneyland, old-timey Saloon version of the Old West, look elsewhere. In the Occasion’s desert, you’ll find vultures and carrion and cacti, and as long as you’re ready to face the dark wilds of the musical frontier, go forth and listen.