Like a therapy session on a roller coaster.
Released: 23rd March 2018
The jump between Viet Cong and Preoccupations wasn’t exactly a reinvention, because why fix something that isn’t broke? Their first two self-titled albums (obviously under different names) were feats of simmering post-punk brilliance. Tracks like ‘March of Progress’ and ‘Anxiety’ were bone-clattering, cathartic affairs; preoccupied with shaking off the shackles of alienation and disillusionment.
Much like their first two, their latest album, aptly named ‘New Material’, is very much like a therapy session on a roller coaster. From the word go, the album endeavours to rattle you every which way in search of an answer. But, like therapy, this isn’t a search for right answers. It’s more a search for the strength to acknowledge what is happening in the here and now. A search for any answer in the fog of confusion.
Album opener ‘Espionage’ begins with echoing percussion, almost like a tribal ritual being performed at the end of a long dark tunnel. Here the journey begins, drawn in by this idea of something simple albeit a something that seems so far away, warped by the echo and distance.
In the bridge of the track, and in one of the album’s most lucid moments, vocalist Matt Flegel manages to sum up the push and pull of trying to escape a void. “Change is everything / Changes everything / Changing everything / (But it’s nowhere to be found)” he sings in a voice sweeter and calmer than his usual Paul Banksian growl. It’s almost as if laying down the words that preceded it led to this moment of sudden clarity.
Yet, as with their previous two releases, Flegel keeps his eye on the darkness. The tribal ritual at the end of the tunnel seems to get further away as he loses himself over the course of the album in more obsessive and self-destructive modes. It isn’t a hugely hopeful album in that sense but, for him, acknowledging this “preoccupation” is the victory he needs.
Throughout the album, the battle between clarity and fog is a constant not just in his lyrics, but in the sounds too. ‘Disarray’ sees a twinkling riff come face to face with a rattling drum machine, while sounds across ‘Antidote’ slowly become more and more distorted as Flegel falls into his “information overdose”.
This is what sets Preoccupations apart from just another band looking inwards. The dynamic rush that shapes each track on New Material is just as paramount as the lyrics that lie within them. Each track crackles with a nervous energy as the pieces fall (and often out) of place. They have taken inspiration from their post-punk and no wave forefathers, most notably The Cure, Television and The Fall, and crafted something with the potential to be just as iconic.
Their commitment to their craft here is unwavering. They are still capable of finding the most interesting and exhilarating (in both a thrilling and terrifying fashion) sounds to convey emotion. And yet, while it may not have the sheer intensity or power of their previous self-titled albums, ‘New Material’’s more considered pace brings us a whole new perspective on the struggles and “preoccupations” that sets this band apart.
‘New Material’ doesn’t provide answers, because it’s obvious that the answers aren’t black or white. But finding answers isn’t the point. Seeing what’s at the end of the tunnel isn’t the point either. It’s not as simple, and Flegel knows that full well. He’s done with strolling past what it means to be alive in search of some distant happy ending. Instead, he takes us further into the nooks and crannies of the tunnel to fully explore the human condition. Chris Taylor