Preoccupations are comfortable making you uncomfortable
Preoccupations is a 9 track, 47 minute post-punk album that best approximates the sound of hope being dragged through an industrial warehouse. Matt Flegel’s nasally voice sounds infused with the tar of a thousand smoke filled lungs, and finds suitable company among the wildly distorted and rust covered melodies that populate the album. The track list is no less dramatic. It contains only single-word titles, featuring nouns like “Anxiety” and “Monotony” and adjectives like “Forbidden” and “Degraded”. There is little here that inspires good-feeling. However, there are select moments of unexpected harmony that shine like dirty light through the heart of certain lucky songs; if only more of these moments were admitted, perhaps the album would be more listenable.
A little history can perhaps illuminate how Preoccupations ended up occupying such a dark corner of the musical spectrum. In 2007, two of Preoccupations’ current members, Matt Flegel and Mike Wallace, joined a nascent art rock band named Women based out of Calgary. Their initial offering, an LP named Woman, was a brooding and melodic album that was well-received by fans and critics alike. They toured successfully until 2010 when, during a show at the Lucky Bar in Victoria, BC, a fistfight broke out onstage between the band members. That was the last time they performed together. Then, in 2012, Women guitarist Christopher Reimer passed away in his sleep. Rattled by the death of their ex-bandmate, Flegel and Wallace reunited to form the band Viet Cong. They adopted a darker aesthetic, embracing the despondency offered by post-punk. While their music was met well critically, the band name began to draw negative attention, culminating in Oberlin College cancelling a show and a blunt call-out by Canada’s Exclaim! magazine, which began to run a “Days since Viet Cong promised to change their name” counter online. In April of this year, they announced in an interview with Pitchfork that they would change their name to Preoccupations. They seemed to have responded to the controversy by adding another layer of black paint to their hardened exterior.
Preoccupations is not music for the hopeful, or even those trying to be. Perhaps the reason the album is often so grating is because the band’s members are actually comfortable in a space of disharmony, and don’t care whether you are too. There’s an argument to be made that such inclinations suggest true artistry. The album’s longest song is called “Memory”, an 11 minute, three part investigation into identity, death, and meaning, and it contains some of the best and most maddening music any iteration of this band has ever produced. It’s a microcosm through which the rest of their music can be understood. Upon completing it, one is forced to the conclusion that this band, despite producing sounds which seem to narrate a panic attack, cannot be written off as trivial.