A hollow crash echoes throughout empty space, like jagged sheets of ice plummeting over a cliff’s edge, into a gaping chasm. In the space of that chasm, nothing exists, but the reverberating clatter, fading ever so slightly with each repetition, softly disappearing then repeating its cycle. Though this sound is manufactured—a tape loop to be exact—it could easily be mistaken for natural phenomenon: majestic, disastrous and beautiful. This is a natural exercise for New York noir rockers The Occasion, who, on their debut Cannery Hours, find seemingly endless possibilities for maintaining equilibrium between majesty and fragility.
The looped whooshing sounds that open the record cycle throughout “So Far,” augmented dramatically by gentle, ringing guitar chords. The overall effect is a darkly cinematic one, as if the band were scoring a suspense film, shot in a remote location, which is reflected in Charles Burst’s lyrics: “I’ll pack up my suitcase and slink from your turf/off to the forest to lick myself clean/ and I’ll spend my time catching the dew from the leaves.”
As the ice shatters and the stage is set, the credits roll and we are drawn in to the world of The Occasion through Cannery Hours‘ title track. Still dark, but somewhat hotter and more agitated, “Cannery Hours” moves more like Spoon or Calla than Low. The subtleties are still what make the song as utterly bewitching and mysterious as it is, various effects and the twinkle of Rhodes piano braiding between the resonance of digital delay. “Back in Town,” meanwhile, is like a more carnivalesque, raucous adaptation of Echo and the Bunnymen’s Liverpudlian post-punk. Singer Brent Cordero, meanwhile, resembles a more misanthropic Andrew Kenny (of American Analog Set fame), sputtering verbal venom like “you took the best bitch of the litter, before all the sinners had their turn.”
Deeper into the album, Cannery Hours slowly becomes less about space and how far the band allows their sound to stretch than about a finely crafted album that plays upon tension and ill ease. It may begin like Bergman, but it flows more like Polanski. “Register My Complaints” takes the band’s atmospheric approach and applies it to a noisier rock arrangement, while follow-up “You May Know Me” emerges from the ether and coalesces into a more solid, though no less ethereal gathering of gorgeous sounds and rhythms. A strange transition brings us to “All Over Idaho,” a tainted-lensed view of ’70s AM pop, bouncy rhythms doing battle with feedback and eerie, descending guitar riffs.
The ending is a little long and drawn out (nine-minute sonic journeys titled “The Maiden” tend to have that quality), yet the experience is not cheapened by this somewhat indulgent step. Cannery Hours finds beauty both in the detail and in the vast openness that surrounds it. It, unfortunately, doesn’t have a screenplay attached to it, but with each listener will, inevitably, come inexplicable daydreams, one that will continue to haunt long after the album has ended.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.