Occurrence - Slow Violence (Album Review)


New Yorker trio Occurrence blend abstract worlds of polluted alt-pop and energetic flourishes of danceable rhythms on their creative and flamboyantly far-reaching fifth album Slow Violence.  The sprawling double album encompasses 22 tracks of artistic technological pop, all imbued with a sense of dance, emergency and psychological and sociological exploration. "Slow violence" is defined as a type of violence which happens gradually over time and is not necessarily visible. For example, it can be a factory built by a western company in a developing country that damages the environment over time. Occurrence have taken the idea of slow violence and applied it to their personal lives; touching on themes of consequentialism and how the past can, however slowly or violently, follow us into the present.   

The electronic group work upwards from member Ken Urban's electronics, synths, and beats, with vocalist and flautist Cat Hollyer and vocalist Johnny Hager adding a humanistic flare to the otherwise digital landscape. Such is the case for "Blossom Forth", the electrifying opening track on which both vocalists deliver sentimental and compelling melodies over a mash-up of acoustic guitar and dancefloor grooves. It's a telling introduction to an album that folds in various aspects of music. For example, "Fudge" is a darker cut reminiscent of the industrial sounds of Nine Inch Nails but mixed with Bj√∂rkisms.  

There are some stellar high points to be found on this vast, somewhat uneven collection. "November 30, 2014", with its atmospheric synth work and orchestral instrumentation, features a compelling spoken word section about the repercussions of becoming emotionally unavailable in a relationship, further extrapolating the album's themes of human fallibility. The neon-glow urbanisms of "Depression Water", a highly-personal track from Hollyer which shares her struggles with postnatal depression while glitchy beats and processed blasts of bass-heavy and sinister instrumentation mirror the lyrics' frustrations and hopelessness. Likewise, "The Remote Past Tense" has all the grand ambition of the Cocteau Twins, but with a twist of Occurrence's uniquely delicate structures, songs that are capable of boiling down to bare bones without losing their intensity. 

However, it's not all fun and games. The aggressive and anxiety inducing "Survive, Die Faster" feels like half an idea, the tightly constructed but unapologetically twee "Heels over Head" features a questionably nasally vocal delivery from Hager, and "Love Is Love (Until It's Not)", a frantic track with cluttered percussion and breathy vocal lines that talk of the tedium of divorce is somehow too literal to be interesting. Likewise, "Anonymous Data Call" is an unconvincing attempt at super modernity, referencing Instagram as it dabbles in spliced up vocal samples. 

The album features several alluring instrumental tracks; the calming tick-tock arpeggiations and gentle flute of "This Isn't What I Imagined", the experimental jazz-cum-techno of "Water into Ocean", the global rhythms of "Godwound / Slow Violence III", or the gentle and comforting ambient closing track "Prepare My Body for Sleep" which resolutely closes the collection with meditative cool.

Slow Violence by Occurrence is a highly creative foray into experimentally dark pop music. There are ostensibly no barriers to the trio's ambitions as they explore questionable routes to find their truth, to reckon with their pasts, and to identify how our actions can have a ripple effect far into the future. While undoubtedly far too long, there are enough pick-me-ups throughout the album to maintain connection. Some more austere editing would've yielded a more cohesive and impactful work, however the longevity and sense of exploration apparent on this album make its length just one aspect of its idiosyncratic and highly personable world.