Preoccupations' songs have always worked through themes of creation, destruction, and futility, and they've always done it with singular post-punk grit. The textures are evocative and razor-sharp. The wire is always a live one. But while that darker side may have been expertly explored, it's not quite the same as having been fully, intensely lived. This time it was, and the result is 'New Material', Preoccupations' deepest and most fully realized record to date. In it lies the difference between witnessing a car crash and crashing your own, between jumping into an ocean and starting to swallow the water.
In late 2013, Preoccupations - then known as Viet Cong - released a small-run cassette EP only available on tour. Over the course of a year, Matt Flegel and Scott Munro worked in their basement studio with a mess of old and run down equipment to build a set of fresh material. Joined by bandmates Daniel Christiansen and Michael Wallace, the band completed work on an debut cassette. What emerged from the studio was a mixture of sharply-angled rhythm workouts and euphoric '60s garage pop-esque melodies, balanced with a penchant for drone-y, VU-styled downer moments, and became a hard-to-find classic.
When the four members of Preoccupations wrote and recorded their new record, they were in a state of near total instability. Years-long relationships ended; they left homes behind. Frontman Matt Flegel, guitarist Danny Christiansen, multi-instrumentalist Scott Munro and drummer Mike Wallace all moved to different cities and they resolved to change their band name, but hadn't settled on a new one.
And so where their previous album 'Viet Cong' was built in some ways on the abstract cycles of creation and destruction, 'Preoccupations' explores how that sometimes-suffocating, sometimes-revelatory trap affects our lives.
Opener "Anxiety" articulates that tension: clattering sounds drift into focus, "Monotony" moves at a narcoleptic pace by Preoccupations' standards, "Degraded" surprises, with something like a traditional structure and an almost pop-leaning melody to its chorus, and the 11-minute-long "Memory" is the album's keystone, with an intimate narrative and a truly timeless post-punk center.
All this adds up to Preoccupations: a singular, bracing collection that proves what's punishing can also be soothing, everything can change without disrupting your compass. Your best year can be your worst year at the same time. Whatever sends you flying can also help you land.
1. Preoccupations on clear vinyl2. Preoccupations on CD3. Bonus 7” featuring two covers, of Yellow Magic Orchestra’s “Key” and The Raincoats’ “Off Duty Trip”4. 11” x 17” poster featuring album art5. Digital download code for the album (containing 320kbps MP3s) redeemable two (2) weeks before release date on September 2, 2016
Recorded in a barn-turned-studio in rural Ontario, the seven songs that make up Viet Cong were born largely on the road, when Flegel and bandmates Mike Wallace, Scott Munro and Daniel Christiansen embarked on a 50-date tour that stretched virtually every limit imaginable. Close quarters hastened their exhaustion but also honed them as a group. You can designate records as seasonal, and you can feel Viet Cong's bleakness and declare it wintry. But the only way you get a frost is when there's something warmer to freeze up. So yes, Viet Cong is a winter album, but only until it is a spring record, then a summer scorcher, then an autumn burner, then it ices over again.