The band formerly known as Vietcong and now renamed Preoccupations found out the hard way that the quote “No publicity is bad publicity” is not always true. The band had drawn critical raves with their debut eponymous album only to have the other shoe drop on their musical aspirations. The group was accused of racism, cultural appropriation and insensitive because of the name of their band Vietcong.
The band saw the controversy swell into an Orwellian political correctness hysteria and cause the cancellation of concert dates and at least one media site hurling personal invective on the band. Some have since pointed out that there have been numerous offensively named bands throughout Rock’s history and that few have had the back lash faced by the now renamed Preoccupations. Arguments as to whether the band rightly or wrongly should have been criticized are for another day. The band has moved on changing their name and releasing their second album, the eponymous “Preoccupations” which drops on September 16th in all the usual places. For fans of their prior incarnation this reboot of their franchise loses none of its sonic goodness or post punk inklings. Many of the new songs reflect the angst the band experienced and captures the catharsis they worked through to put the ordeal behind them.
Preoccupations formed in Calgary, Alberta Canada in 2012. They have been described as mLabyrinthtine Post Punk with slatherings of Shoegaze and Dark Wave flecked in the mix. The band is comprised of front-man Matt Flegel, guitarist Danny Christiansen, multi instrumentalist Scott Munro and drummer Mike Wallace. The songs on the 2015 debut were an abstract cycle of creation and destruction that played out over a jackhammer heavy bass, ominous guitars and intense percussion leading to music that was unavoidably magnetic. The debut scored serious critical respect from heavyweights like NME, Pitchfork, Stereogum, and XS Noize who all placed the release on their “Album of the Year” lists. If not for the miasma of controversy the band was captured within they might have attained even more renown. In the aftermath the band faced the challenge of weaving back together the tattered remains of their career and wondering if they could reverse the negativity that could possibly taint successive efforts. They found themselves out of gas and pondering the possibility of disbanding. Long term relationships ended, members of the band moved to entirely different cities away from the band’s home base. After a lot of soul searching the band regrouped with the new name Preoccupations which was bestowed upon them by a friend. They also discovered a new singularity of purpose that allowed them to go forward.
In writing the songs for the latest release the band tossed out their road tested honed approach. They stripped down the songs they had and repurposed them into something new. The result is an album that examines the more personal introspective facets of life, as revealed by the song titles. In context is seems pretty apt that the band opens the recording with Anxiety a song that pack a punch lyrically and instrumentally. It is a great encapsulation of the anger and fear the band was experiencing. There is a bone rattling phathasmgoriac opening that is filled with tension as relayed in the lyric,” With a sense of urgency and unease. Second guessing just about everything.” The band has never shied away from conveying anger through their prior music and again holds nothing back as they cathartically let loose on this song.
Monotony has this narcoleptic pacing with industrial sounds and sophisticated hooks galore. The song examines how the gray repetitive nature of daily life is deadly, “This repetition’s killing you it’s killing everyone.” Flegel’s vocal delivery conveys all the brooding ennui of the piece making for an extremely engaging track. Zodiac segues with no break from “Monotony” but delivers more energy with skittering guitars and insistent drums. Flegel vocalizes total dystopic introspection with a lyric like, “You’re an impossibility fading into obscurity.” The band has not been know for having an upbeat nature in their music and by this third song fans can rest assured that they are sticking with what they do best, providing a kind of ersatz primal scream therapy.
The song Memory is the band’s keystone track on the album, and not just because it runs to 11 plus minutes but because it is an outstanding sonic experience. The song builds around a solid post punk center as it is informed by the idea of watching someone losing their mind. It also examines how society performs a type of samizdat on memories and history with its attention deficit tendencies. The lyrics ponder whether this tendency is society’s self generated predilection or is it created by a sort of state sponsored intent. The song is paranoid and dark as relayed in lyrics such as, “Necessary, but against your better judgment … overwhelmed and it’s coming from all angles.” The instrumentation backs up the feelings of the track with hazy overdubs and aggressive guitars and has three distinct parts; the first, anger filled and in your face, the second more hallucinogenic with a romantic vocal approach in contrast to the other two sections and the final segment an instrumental race down the path to hell. The difficulty level on this song was extremely high and the band to their credit pulls it off effortlessly.
Degraded has a hell of an act to follow but redeems itself well. Out of the nine songs it has the most tradition pop structure but then morphs into something that is fast becoming a trademark sound for the band. The lyrics portray a person who is at their lowest nadir as they pull themselves apart for each perceived flaw, “we are consistent in our flaws predictably we have no goals”. The razor like sonics mirrors the image of self lacerating the ego. The drums impel forward and the thumping bass deliver another winning track. Two brief but just as powerful songs follow, Sense and Forbidden. “Sense” acts like a thermogen that deadens the pain. This allows for the realization of the existence of something hidden. The track is again aptly performed vocally and instrumentally. “Forbidden” is ghostly and distorted with a spiraling guitar riff and examines societal conversational taboos like death, suicide and forbidden fruit.
My absolute favorite song on the album is Stimulation with its mad frantic beat. It is an awesome punk sonic attack reminding me of The Clash. The track is powerful and takes no prisoners as it looks what we find when we turn over the rocks and all the squiggly things squirm out. The song examines how society knows what it is doing is wrong and at worst cheers it’s downfall and at best shrugs and goes along with it, “We’re running out of things to hurt never ending ways to be absurd.” It is a stunning song.
The final track changes thing up with a very synth laden tune that at first feels like it doesn’t fit with the theme and feel of the rest of the album. Fever is suddenly positive where there has been so much darkness and anger. In the song there is the attempt to comfort someone helping them to build confidence to face terrifying things. The track is in some ways the band turning the page on the controversy they were caught within.
The latest album from Preoccupations is a worthy follow up to their debut. It displays a band who survived something that many bands would not endure. In a situation where everything was in freefall the band was able to hold on to the things that make them who they are and acknowledge perceived errors and move on. The release displayed that your worst experience can give you the materials to create your best work. For those fans who loved their prior incarnation there is only more to love with the latest release and a chance for new fans to join the ride. Preoccupations delivers a cathartic album that purges out the negatives of the past and preserves all the elements that make the band great and a true contender for future success.