"There’s hope in this communication, hey underground lets take this town!"
This is the rallying cry exclaimed by Canadian artist Harkness on the opening track of his uplifting debut album The Occasion, which features cascading vocal harmonies that radiate over orchestral arrangements and upbeat pop grooves.
As a self-produced multi-instrumentalist, Harkness, mystically clad in visor and gown, wears his inspiration from musical titans such as Brian Wilson and Todd Rundgren on his sleeve. At a time when many artists are relying heavily on machines, Harkness focuses only on real instrumentation to create lush, evocative, deeply human sonic landscapes, with a fresh modern pop aesthetic which calls to mind Soft Bulletin era Flaming Lips. Having quietly honed his craft for over a decade, he is finally ready to share his colourful sonic explorations, which are underpinned by songs that each share a soul bearing, heartfelt intimacy, with an undercurrent of love that extends far beyond the individual.
When asked "why now?" Harkness explains, "after writing and recording for a long time I was finally able to really tap into the very core of my being. Throughout the recording process I have had to overcome many personal struggles, and as the world today appears to have incredible challenges ahead, I feel the time is right for the spirit of this music." His emergence has also been encouraged by L.A. musician and Beck collaborator Roger Manning Jr. who, having been handed some Harkness demos, was blown away and has since remained a consistent source of encouragement.
"Listening to Harkness I was completely blown away by his grasp of vocal harmony and arranging. His song writing and production is some of the best I've heard in years."
Nothing short of ambitious, The Occasion begins with its title track, an eight-minute opus consisting of a variety of musical ‘trips’ which journey through various inner and outer states of destruction and rebirth, seeking a revolutionary inner truth and freedom. Commencing with a violent explosion (the sound of a piano dropping, and an acoustic guitar being thrown at a piano harp), the song sails through passages of soulful west coast pop harmonies and strings, brooding cinematic big band menace, Stravinsky-esque overtures and driving Indie-Rock.
Album closer ‘Moonspell’ begins as a reverie that poignantly evokes a locked down COVID planet caught in a massive hex. “Some other day we'll wake our world from slumber” Harkness pines over a radiant, melancholic arrangement. After passing through orchestral and choral tumult, the song then returns us to a place where we can once again privilege ourselves to imagine “dreamy days of nothing wrong.” In another standout track, ‘Lure of the Pollen’, low range tubas and bassoons flirt with flutes and marimbas, creating a unique and vibrant sound picture that conjures a passionate interplay of instinctual energies, of those butterflies in the stomach that occur during early romance.
Harkness wears his visor and gown to reflect a profound and life changing experience from his early 20s, in which he “was shown what appeared to be the blissful advantages of leading an imageless life." As a result, Harkness has liberated himself from the trappings of the capitalist image economy, instead choosing to let his music do the talking. Despite the warm three to five-part vocal harmony and sophisticated hooks, there is a dark undercurrent brewing underneath the surface of much of this music, a reflection of the chaotic division expressed throughout the world around us. With a firm belief in the oneness of humanity, Harkness feels compelled to share his creations. "I hope that while listening to these songs people at once feel the urgency and desperation of our time, but are inspired and emotionally moved enough to take steps in their own life to help improve our collective world."