One look at the tracklisting for Preoccupations’ new album points to a grandiloquent affair, one so steeped in a particularly masculinist post-punk tradition that it would seem like a parody, were they not so genuine about it. There’s the proliferation of abstract nouns (‘Espionage’, ‘Manipulation’, ‘Solace’, ‘Doubt’, ‘Compliance’). Then there’s the solemn cover art…
Menacing opener ‘Espionage’ starts off powerful, but its backing vocals verge on the anthemic, meaning essentially some unsubtle, laddish hooks. The next two tracks are excellent: ‘Decompose’, with its splashes of synth over which frontman Matt Flegel sings about ‘rivers of radiation’, and ‘Disarray’, a nebula of rumbling basslines and dreamy vocals. There’s very little filler, and it’s as though a dusty pall has been placed over 2016’s self-titled release – ‘Solace’ seems to be a remnant of that brighter, rawer sound. ‘New Material’ (the title a nonchalant, self-reflexive shrug) is full of intricate, labyrinthine drumming set off against brooding synths and guitar lines, with its lyrics tending towards abstraction. All add to that feeling of aloofness and oppression, even. It does not pull punches.
At the opening of ‘Doubt’, you do wonder if you’re listening to Calgary’s Premier Joy Division Tribute Act. The best moments on ‘New Material’ are undoubtedly the ones when Preoccupations take the most enduring bits of that lineage to which they are so indebted and run with them.
The closer, ‘Compliance’, sounds the soundtrack to an inspiring movie trailer as it swells into a cacophony of grit, but it is an unusual, unexpected moment where the group edges towards the euphoric: rarely is anything full-throated, and things tend to be quite regimented and unearthly. By the end of it, it’s very clear that this is a deadly serious record – not a parody, not even an homage, but a largely enjoyable marriage of the stodge with the airy and the old with the new which manages to retain an impressive sense of cohesiveness and consistency.
Words: Wilf Skinner
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