Preoccupations - Preoccupations
[This piece was originally published as a review on The 405]
Preoccupations' former self-titled album Viet Cong came out early last year, and seemed like a surge of defiant energy cutting through the frosty January days and nights. The quartet's vicious percussive gait combined with their scything guitars to make rock songs as ruthless as the army that shared its name. Preoccupations doesn't reinvent the band's sound as much as refine it, which it turns out only makes it all the more scary and hopeless. It comes at the tail end of summer, as we're heading into shorter, darker days - and it's here to guide us.
"A sense of urgency and unease," begins Matt Flegel on opening track "Anxiety." This short phrase could be used to sum up the entirety of Viet Cong and now Preoccupations's underlying emotions and demeanour. However, whereas the previous album got this hyperactive discomfort across mainly through its brash instrumentation, the new album does so through atmosphere and lyrics. If Viet Cong was the band's world crashing down around them, then this album is them picking up and marching on through the dust, even if they're at the very limits of their remaining patience and energy. The track list reads like the internal monologue of zombified humanity; feelings boiled down to single words: "Anxiety," "Monotony," "Degraded," "Fever" and so on.
"I'm not here purely for the sake of breathing / I am wide awake, excuse my efforts for today," Matthew Flegel sings on "Anxiety"'s bridge, summing up the themes of the album; dealing with the demands of modern society and the lethargy and apathy that can come along with it. Meanwhile, the band hovers like a thick mist, blurring thoughts and fatiguing muscles. Throughout the album their clever percussion intersects with the constantly hovering bass to create a dark spectre that looms and lurches through the songs, imbuing them with a re-animated quality. At their most frantic, like "Zodiac," the sense of fear built up by the alien wall of sound helps to add sharpness to Flegel's imploring vocals about sleepwalkers and zombies. On "Degraded" the propulsive percussion pushes through a mesh of fired up metallic guitars, and it sounds like you can actually hear the song degrading while Flegel admits they're "intolerant and overheating." On 'Stimulation' the band is at their most heads-down post-punk mode, and actually seem to be fighting and struggling their way to escaping and disproving the singer's claims that they're "all dead inside."
Preoccupations have also started to imbue their songs with little touches of synth, and it is through these that they can add some menace or hope to the canvas created by their impervious guitar work. The closing "Fever" is buoyed by a dense layer of analogue synth that keeps it afloat, and the luminous melodic synth seems to add a strange tinge of optimism to Flegel's send-off: "you're not scared, carry your fever away from here." Then again there is "Forbidden," wherein the subtle electronics add extra threat to the claim "you will be made irrelevant by suicide machine."
The centrepiece of the album is the 11-minute "Memory," which unfolds in three parts, showing off Preoccupations' abilities with melody and mood in their most expansive creation yet. Built over a static drone, stuttering piano and a sticky bass line, the song begins as a culmination of all the overwhelming stresses explored on the rest of the album, asking "where were we when we all went under?" But there is a sense of it all being too late; the song is subdued and Flegel takes a look back over traumatic events and absolves himself: "you don't have to say sorry for all the things you failed to do / you don't need to say sorry for all the times when everything fell through." The song's repetitive machinations eventually grind to a halt and then the song evolves into the most hopeful sounding part of the album, a new wave jam helmed by guest vocalist Dan Boeckner, who leads us down a path to "erasing your memory." The catatonic blankness that comes from this lobotomy is then played out in the song's extended ambient outro, where the song's frenetic energy boils down into humming feedback and dissonant bliss.
Preoccupations is a tough, black and resilient modern rock album. It takes an intense and undiluted look at the dark mental landscape of someone who is dealing with today's stresses and responsibilities. It doesn't attempt to try to explain them away; it just offers a vision of what it's like to live amidst them. Through the monotonal lyrics, the frantic instrumentation and the gooey impermeable production, it brings those fears and frustrations into terrifying incorporeal life in each and every one of the songs on the album.
Below you can see my top 50 albums of the year list.
50| Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - EARS
49| Thee Oh Sees - A Weird Exits
48| Daughter - Not To Disappear
47| The Avalanches - Wildflower
46| Beyonce - Lemonade
45| Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
44| Gold Panda - Good Luck and Do Your Best
43| James Blake - The Colour In Anything
42| Lambchop - FLOTUS
41| Ty Segall - Emotional Mugger
40| Nothing - Tired Of Tomorrow
39| Camp Cope - Camp Cope
38| Cymbals Eat Guitars - Pretty Years
37| Aphex Twin - Cheetah EP
36| Mary Lattimore - At The Dam
35| Woods - City Sun Eater In The River Of Light
34| White Lung - Paradise
33| Solange - A Seat At The Table
32| Wild Beasts - Boy King
31| Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition
30| Marissa Nadler - Strangers
29| Weyes Blood - Front Row Seat To Earth
28| Kevin Morby - Singing Saw
27| Kendrick Lamar - untitled unmastered.
26| Whitney - Light Upon The Lake
25| Kedr Livanskiy - January Sun
24| Frankie Cosmos - Next Thing
23| Steve Gunn - Eyes On The Lines
22| Pantha du Prince - The Triad
21| Cass McCombs - Mangy Love
20| Cavern of Anti-Matter - void beats/invocation trex
19| Olga Bell - Tempo
18| Chairlift - Moth
17| Mitski - Puberty 2
16| Anderson .Paak - Malibu
15| Underworld - Barbara, Barbara we face a shining future
14| Xenia Rubinos - Black Terry Cat
13| Savages - Adore Life
12| DIIV - Is The Is Are
11| Frank Ocean - Blonde
10| Jenny Hval - Blood Bitch
09| MONEY - Suicide Songs
08| Car Seat Headrest - Teens of Denial
07| A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service
06| Nicolas Jaar - Sirens
05| Angel Olsen - My Woman
04| Parquet Courts - Human Performance
03| Preoccupations - Preoccupations
02| ANOHNI - Hopelessness
01| Blood Orange - Freetown Sound