In Review: Toronto Genre-Bending Art Rocker Harkness Releases Debut Album ‘The Occasion’

Most superheroes don’t actually wear capes – but this particular guitarist/producer/superhuman does.

Based in Toronto, Harkness is an entirely self-made artist, using his multi-instrumental talents and production skills to create ambitious soundscapes. His dedication to using the natural sounds of instruments sets him apart from other atmospheric, experimental artists, and gives his music a very earthy yet cosmic sound. 

After some time establishing himself as an artist through a string of singles, Harkness has embarked on a much bigger musical project – his debut album.

Made up of the singles he’s released since late 2020, Harkness’ debut record, The Occasion, officially dropped today Friday The 13th. And with just about every instrument – from bassoon to marimba, to guitar and five part-vocal harmonies – featured on the album, it’s certainly a listening experience to say the least. Each track has a unique underlying sound, but Harkness’ vocals and lyrics tie the songs together, creating a project that is nothing short of amazing. 

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The titular track, “The Occasion” is a dark, experimental track built on theatrical strings and harmonies reminiscent of Queen’s Flash Gordon era. Inspired by destruction and the exploration of inner and outer states, the piece seeks truth and freedom – something Harkness found when writing the album. Raw, acoustic sounds and deep introspection are rooted in his search for music that best represents his core being, and The Occasion reflects that.

Featured on the album is Harkness’ first single, “I.D.”, which was released in September last year. The overall sound of the song is different from the others on the album, with a much lighter vibe that channels one of Harkness’ biggest influences, Brian Wilson. Beachy guitar and swirling harmonies make for an easy listen while providing a stark contrast to the darker sound The Occasion has taken on – all the while, showing the growth of this artist in the last year.

“Tornado” is another guitar-driven song, which easily gets stuck in your head. Catchy riffs and a marimba solo that somehow just makes sense, create a track that catches you off guard in the midst of the album.

“GM GM”, Harkness’ first single of 2021, is a cinematic, mystical sounding song. The closest thing I can think of is Electric Light Orchestra’s “Strange Magic;” both songs utilize bright harmonies and twinkling, ornamental melodies over dark chords that transform what could have been a creepy piece into something sparkly and otherworldly.

A dark contrast to “GM GM,” Harkness’ newest single, “Moon Spell” definitely taps into the creepy sounds acoustic instruments are capable of making. If you, like me, are a bit of a scaredy-cat, I wouldn’t recommend listening to it at night. I was genuinely scared by the voices spread through the space in the song. Along with the dragging instrumental, it is something out of a nightmare, but in the most intentional way.

As a whole, The Occasion is a journey through various soundscapes, accompanied by Harkness himself. Each track is a unique emotional and sonic experience, and the production quality only solidifies the power of the album.

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