Saskatchewan – Occasion


We’ve featured Saskatchewan on two separate occasions, describing them as perhaps not the most uniquely sounding band, but certainly a bunch of highly skilled crafters of vintage pop. So, even while Saskatchewan’s debut might initially come off as a sentimental trip, a scrapbook of both then and now, it’s very much an engaging record painted in rigorously vital colors. The slick vintage ambiance is admirably manifested across Occasions ten tracks, charmingly executed were each song bares clearly distinguishable features. There is that obvious comparison to Twin Shadow and Wild Nothing, but it’s not a necessity when viewing the album in an isolated context. The more you listen to the album, the less important are the nostalgic sentiments, and the bands great attention to details and craftsmanship start to show itself.

Still, at initial listen there are bits and pieces of history scattered across the album, but it’s necessary to note that the certain eras or musical imprints that they evokes is less important than the melodious structure of each song. Take the opener “Death & Taxes” for instance; the song starts off as a gloomy Angelo Badalamenti score but transforms into a slightly cheesy, yet irresistibly captivating 80’s synth-ballad. But after the third or so listen, the foremost thing that sustains is the effortlessly curved harmonies buried under a strain of wistful ambiance.

“Death & Taxes” is followed by “Divine Kind” were the band exchanges the synthesizers for the murky new wave of Echo And The Bunnymen. It might be one of the weakest moments on the record, but still displays Occasion’s expansive registry viewed in the context of the genre. With “Possession”, they get in a flow of spellbinding songwriting, with the aptly titled Bryan Ferry/80’s Roxy Music-esque “Spellbound” as the possible high mark alongside the faster-paced “Destroy”.

Impressively, the second half of the record carries just as much weight as the first. The album stand-out “Young Ministry” manages to revisits early New Order/The Cure in a fruitful way with layers of reverberated guitars, soft percussive beats and washed out synthesizers. “New Medicine” is probably the most immediately rewarding listen, revisiting “Possessions” beguiling falsetto refrain, while the title-track is a stunning closer were the band leave the drum-machines aside, carrying the song with sweeping orchestrated keyboard lines, slowly building towards a bursting finale. “Fronting” and “Venom” might be regarded as mere fillers with their movie score sort of ambiance, but still manage to uphold a certain quality in terms of melody and texture.

Taken as a whole, Occasion builds on catchy refrains, but not in a fast-food sort of way. Underneath the vintage layers, the songs are sophisticated enough to withstand and evolve over time. Occasion fits nicely alongside Wild Nothings and Twin Shadows debuts and while both these artist have gone on to refining their aesthetic and getting more assured in their artistry, we have to remember that Occasion is very much a debut were Saskatchewan are still trying to find their place. There’s evidently an unfortunate risk of being labeled as merely yet another revivalist outfit, and while that to some extend is true, all good records rely on skillful songwriting. For that reason, Occasion should not be written off as anything less than a very accomplished first try.

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