Preoccupations (formed under the name Viet Cong) are back with new material titled, well … New Material. While the title of the band’s second album under the Preoccupations name is odd to say the least, the content beneath the subversive joke prevails as the band’s best output to date. With a darker twist and higher quality production, Preoccupations sheds its rather nostalgic posture of post-punk and makes an experimental jump with a hybrid iteration of the genre.
Without falling into the overwrought Joy Division comparisons, the Canadian post-punk provocateurs continue to relish in their influences including their most cited, This Heat. However, their sound has crossed over that threshold and into the genre of coldwave, comparing favorably to acts like Martin Dupont and Asylum Party, all while exploring more progressive modes of sound, a la Soundtrack for the Blind-era Swans.
It’s hard to ignore that Preoccupations have worn the influence of their predecessors heavily on their sleeve in the past, but they prove themselves as more than just revivalists this time around. In fact, Preoccupations distinguish themselves as a quintet of tense, nervous post-punkers with a perilous demeanor and experimental allure, digging their hands deeper into a cynical cauldron of emotion.
The sonics on New Material are stimulating and possess the gnashing teeth of good, abrasive post-punk, and while it seemed the band’s musings could not get any darker, they are intensely embodied here. Enhancing their nocturnal sound, New Material brandishes the band’s affinity toward soundscapes brimming with misanthropy and frigid darkness while further reflecting on the thematic dynamic between self-destruction and coping with the destruction around us.
As frontman Matt Flegel stated in the band’s press release regarding the band’s lyrical content, “[New Material] is an ode to depression…self-sabotage, and looking inward at yourself with extreme hatred.”
Under this pretense, there’s an inevitable suffering oozing from Flegel’s lyrics—they’re misanthropic and will leave you feeling like dirt. Take the chorus of “Espionage for instance: “Falling out (To the level of the people)/ We are bound/ (Till we’re deeper in a dead sea)/ Shreds of doubt/ (Deeper in the Borealis),” Flegel is not looking for answers to any questions here, he’s reflecting with brutal realism while dwelling gloriously within hopelessness. These themes sheath the entirety of New Material but result in quite the masochistic experience.
To pair with the album’s heavily morose themes, New Material returns the quintet to their dingier, reverb-drenched selves encountered on Viet Cong, but with a heavy prominence placed on synthesizers and with jagged guitars complementing noticeably but not overbearingly.
The overall arrangements are a subversive assault on commonplace post-punk-isms, and although the tracks here are predictably grating upon initial listen with the various layers of innovative industrialism, each track is laced with an impossible hue of melodicism, thus subverting what is musically possible within the current wave of post-punk.
New Material is one of those rare post-punk gems that mandates several spins in order to truly appreciate it. Through and through, intentionality surfaces behind the band’s updated sound. With New Material’s opening track “Espionage,” the urgent call-and-response dynamic is at the forefront and adds a clever internal dialogue-like effect to the high-octane single.
The mournful-sounding “Disarray” builds upon the industrial energy of “Espionage” and will remind many of the frenetic drum programming synonymous with New Order’s “Blue Monday.” The crescendo-filled “Manipulation” provides the first somber moment of the album, as it is contrastingly ghostly with its ebb-and-flow of energy.
Operating most appropriately as the connective tissue between the band’s self-titled album and their new sonic incarnation, the track “Antidote” is a thunderous reuptake of the album’s vigor with its ear-splitting percussion.
New Material maintains its urgency with the krautrock-leaning track Solace but is then tempered by the ghostly and icy atmosphere of the track “Doubt,” not just sonically but thematically, as lyrics encompassing distrust and uncertainty weave in-and-out of gauzy synths.
The album’s emphatic closer, “Compliance,” is the perfect conclusion to this album’s nature, as distorted guitars and deafening bass jackknife their way through listeners’ ears. The shoegaze-y magnum opus builds and builds into a calamitous affair while faint voices agonizing in the background permeate the droning walls of sound. By the end of the track, the listener is left in awe, not just by how boisterous the experience was, but by how successfully ambitious this nebulous album unraveled in the end.
New Material is a refreshing release from the Canadian band that will probably be divisive among fans. It’s an obscure post-punk endeavor that not only furthers Preoccupations’ growing popularity but confirms that there’s still room to experiment within the genre’s dark confines.
Follow writer Kyle Kohner at Twitter.com/kylejkohner.