Album Review: Preoccupations—“Preoccupations”

By Emma Kelly, Feature Photo via Bandcamp 

Preoccupations might be the only band in the world with three self-titled LPs under three different names. The post-punksformerly known as Viet Cong and formerly formerly known as Womenare back with a collection of songs that swap the jangly abrasiveness of their prior releases for something dreamier and richer in tone, but no less unnerving.

The lead single, “Anxiety,” kicks off the album with a perfect mix of dark and light; balancing a droning synth hook with a crystal-delicate keyboard melody that shines like moonlight through a boarded-up window. The group have always been quick to acknowledge their ‘80s influencesa highlight of the first Viet Cong EP was a cover of Bauhaus’s “Dark Entries”but Preoccupations’s bass-driven, manic/melancholic guitar tunes in particular evoke bands like Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure, and Joy Division, all the while playing up their own strengths, namely unique, interweaving arrangements and Mike Wallace’s surgically precise drumming.

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Album Art for “Preoccupations”

Unease plays a huge role on this album. For all it’s shimmering ambience, there’s always something lurking underneath. Tumult rules throughout: the biting snare rolls at the end of “Stimulation,” the jagged percussion that opens “Memory,” the raw bassline on “Zodiac.” The listener is constantly lulled into a sense of security only to be jerked right back out of it a moment later.

However, the album’s biggest flaw is revealed when the tense, nervous energy slackens, such as on “Monotony” and “Degraded.” Whenever frontman Matt Flegel’s vocals are unearthed from the din, the weakness of his performance and the songwriting itself becomes all too apparent. Flegel is a very impressive bellower, but hearing the same delivery again and again robs his voice of its emotional weight. It reminded me of the time I got stuck on a discount haunted house ride and had to listen to the same Spooky Halloween Noises soundtrack on a loop for thirty minutes while two grumbling carnies took turns hitting the control board with a wrench. Additionally, the overt nihilism gets a little annoying.  Lyrical stylings include, “There’s nothing you can do/because we’re all dead inside,” “This repetition’s killing you/it’s killing everyone,” “You’re an impossibility/fading into obscurity,”  and, my personal favorite, “You can’t be happy every day.” The takeaway message is that we’re all stupid and nothing matters and maggots are going to wriggle around in our intestines when we die. While I agree wholeheartedly, this concept isn’t exactly the freshest corpse at the funeral home. Such unsubstantial edginess would be fitting for four white Canadian dudes who still think it’s cool to call their band Viet Cong, but I expected more from Preoccupations. (Flemish Eye)

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