When the Preoccupations wrote and recorded their new record, they were in a state of near total instability. Years-long relationships ended; they left homes behind. Frontman Matt Flegel, guitarist Danny Christiansen, multi-instrumentalist Scott Munro and drummer Mike Wallace all moved to different cities. They resolved to change their band name (from Viet Cong) and their honed, road-tested approach to songwriting was basically thrown out of the window.
This time they walked into the studio with the gas gauge near empty. There was no central theme or idea to guide the band’s collective cliff jump. As a result, ‘Preoccupations’ bears the visceral, personal sound of holding onto some steadiness in the midst of changing everything.
Where their previous album, ‘Viet Cong’, was built in some ways on the abstract cycles of creation and destruction, ‘Preoccupations’ explores how that sometimes- suffocating, sometimes-revelatory trap affects our lives. “We discarded a lot, reworking songs pretty ruthlessly,” Munro explains. “We ripped songs down to the studs, taking one piece we liked and building something new around it. It was pretty cannibalistic, I guess. Existing songs were killed and used to make new ones.” Sonically, it’s still blistering but it’s a different kind of blister, less the scorched earth of the band’s previous album, more like a blood blister on a fingertip.
Opener ‘Anxiety’ articulates that tension: clattering sounds drift into focus, bouncing and echoing off one another until one bone-shattering moment when the full band strikes at once, moving from something untouchable to get to something deeply felt. ‘Monotony’ moves at a narcoleptic pace by Preoccupations’ standards but snaps to attention to make its point, that “this repetition’s killing you / it’s killing everyone.” ‘Stimulation’ opens with a snarl and hurls itself forward at what feels like a million bpm, pausing for one mortal moment of relief before barrelling onward. ‘Degraded’ surprises, with something like a traditional structure and an almost pop-leaning melody to its chorus, twisting the bigness of Preoccupations’ music to sideswipe the clear, finite smallness of its subjects and events. The 11-minute-long ‘Memory’ is the album’s keystone, with an intimate narrative and a truly timeless post-punk centre. There’s love piercing through the iciness here, fighting its way forward in each of the song's distinct sections