By Tanner Meadows
Album: New Material
Release Date: March 23, 2018
Label: Flemish Eye/Jagjaguwar
Preoccupations’ newest album is yet another step in their steadily evolving musical presence. Album to album, the post-punkers have continually changed and always for the better, both in terms of music and brand. Formerly known as Viet Cong, the group has kept up trends, transitioning again the focus of their discontent away from the society and putting the spotlight on the self. In addition, their instrumentation has again been revised from offbeat to outlandish, making their latest release, New Material, their most introspective and experimental record to date.
Early in their career, Preoccupations stayed true to the social conscientiousness of their punk roots. With the society still in mind, New Material makes intimate moves to shed light on the demons that torment the band members themselves, rather than the abstract individual or group they have used in the past. Self described as “an ode to depression,” the record is an effort on the part of the band in being more open.
The overall tone of the record is one that is more simplified and refined, a move away from the knotty franticity of their previous work. However, don’t mistake this choice as a decision to create a watered down, more palatable entry-level album. Dark and shadowy tones remain, but New Material is far from a silhouette of its predecessors. Don’t mistake the bleakness for edge either. Preoccupations keeps their drear upbeat, almost poppy at times, present mostly on the track “Solace.” The driving, highly technical, almost screechy rhythm guitar, keeps things fast paced.
The instrumentation is probably the most interesting aspect in that it’s been so mangled and processed with pedals and mixers that, in line with the vision of the band, you can hardly tell synth from guitar. The band has been vocal about the experimental recording techniques used on the record, using a variety of convoluted tricks to get their unique sound. As far as that sounds goes, it’s kinda like The Smiths meets Fugazi meets Blade Runner. Sci-fi, punk rock, and psychedelics are all big influences on the band’s music. That slower alt punk sound is very present as well; combined with the synths, it gives the whole album a kind of lingering classic feel while still retaining its status as something new and fresh.
Lyrically speaking, Preoccupations retains those same sad feelings but never wallow in them. New Material is the most personal the band has gotten so far and it is great. According to the group their writing is never intended to get so dark, it’s just the natural course that it takes. For Preoccupations, authenticity is of no issue. A favorite of mine: “The cells divide and multiply, and we can’t help ourselves.” The line is about how living is not a choice, but it’s also about the band’s desire to continue to diverge and experiment with their sound, never ceasing to evolve in both a sonic and an emotional sense.
Preoccupations are currently on tour and will be at Barracuda in Austin, May 22, and Dada in Dallas, May 23.