The band now known as Preoccupations has had a mixed couple of years. When their self-titled debut album released in early 2015, they went by the controversial name Viet Cong. Although the record itself was a shadowy take on post-punk that garnered much deserved notice, a good portion of that attention took the form of criticism over the band name. Now, a year later, the four-piece has been reborn as Preoccupations, with the same aggressive, foreboding sound, but now with 100% less controversy.
On their second self-titled LP, Preoccupations sees the band’s return with a crushing, take-no-prisoners attitude that infects the entire album — and at times is as tense as a knife against your throat. "Anxiety" sets the tone with an opening drone that could be mistaken for distant church bells, setting you up for a destructively sinister groove. While Matt Flegel speak-sings his way through the verses, he draws out the two-word chorus, sounding more like a corrupted audio file than a belted note. Sure, it's easy to see elements of Joy Division woven into this band's DNA, but don't think for a second that it makes them predictable or obvious. "Monotony" is full of angry, angular chords slashing across the background with momentary shifts to a captivating hook.
But as the album moves into "Zodiac," the meteoric beat shifts from industrial to electronic; bubbling, rather than battering. The song itself is a roller coaster, as the tempo dramatically changes with no sense of build-up. Flegel snarls his way through each line, issuing commands like, "Retake your form / From the sad days / Focusing on / The task at hand."
The monolithic "Memory" feels like a couple of established segments stitched together by a lengthy jam session, ending unexpectedly with an ambient trip. "Senses" is a minute-long harmonious transmission, both calm and needed. Even when a track seems more "traditional," Preoccupations still aims to throw you for a bit of a loop. At first, the slow-climbing keyboard and vibrating guitar of "Degraded" would slide perfectly into side two of Bowie’s Low, but the song quickly curves into a raucous, speedy number, full of quick-footed drumming and screeching guitars. "Forbidden" pulls off almost the reverse trick, sounding spacy, then inexplicably fading out as soon as the guitars and drums kick in. The only trick on "Stimulation" is that the song doesn't have one, existing solely as a propulsive, head-banging slice of post-punk.
Overall, Preoccupations is a strong follow-up to an excellent debut record that showcases a band evolving and finding new ways to stretch their sound. Now that Preoccupations will no longer be — for lack of a better term — preoccupied by objections to their former band name, there's nothing left to hold them back.
Song You Need To Hear: "Monotony"
Jagjaguwar / Flemish Eye