The Calgary band Preoccupations (FKA Viet Cong) comes from and continues upon a long tradition of excellence in the realm of post-punk. Having formed out of the collapse of one of the better noise rock groups of the past decade (Women), Preoccupations has made a stand as one of the darker, more daring groups of the post-punk revival, having gathered a mass of fans and acclaim for their first album Viet Cong. This new record takes a wider, scoping tour of what post-punk sounds and could sound like all the while maintaining the fatalism and despair that makes the band the band.
The record begins in unformed sound: delicate buzzing and whirring, shimmering scythes of noise. Something that makes itself immediately clear is the band’s return to noise and its versatile utilization throughout the record. Every song is full of whistles and whale calls and blinks. Tracks are embedded onto static and growls. There are so many audible distinctions that it is hard to gather them all on a single take. The songs are gripping and atmospheric. You are seized in sound.
The last three minutes of “Memory” are an experient in auditory imagery and texture. Imagine: bathyspheric submergence into a deep and murky ocean, beasts and bleats all around you. It is not hostile, but hard to understand. The synth work rolls and the guitars pattern these enormous oscillations. Reverb shakes the song itself. Everything is dark and throbbing. Do not forget the darkness. It is there: in the mood and the lyrics. Preoccupations was never a happy band, a celebratory band. They thrive well in the dark and the record shows brightness only through flashes.
Preoccupations does well in their recall of the the old masters of 80’s post-punk: the first to show their worried heads, the New Wave. At certain points, the band’s influences make themselves more than apparent. The second half of “Memory” metamorphosizes into New Order, dancehall beats and all, an unexpected but not unwelcome turn. A latter track, “Stimulation” begins with liquid glossy guitars right out of the Cure. The song “Fever” (one of my favorites on the record) carries a recurring Kraftwerk synth the whole way. Each song holds a different shade of dark, taking on the shapes of songs and groups before.
As much as I love the versatility of the album, there is an issue with the flow of the album as a whole. The album doesn’t have the time to gather mass amounts of momentum (except in the eleven minute foray that is “Memory”) and each song stands as its own as opposed to as a piece of an album. A general mood holds the record together but there isn’t a great amount of coherence. Each track begins with its own expositional noise intro, meant to set the pace and motion of the song but in doing so these breaks alienate each song from the next.
Overall, as far as post-punk goes, this band has done an incredible job at creating an album that both honors the first advances of post-punk while pushing its sound in a more abstract, unwieldy manner. It doesn’t have any real standouts, not like last album’s “Continental Shelf,” but it makes up in the breadth and reach of the sound achieved. I am happy to have encountered the elusive and protean animal that is this album.