Fresh from releasing one of the finest rock records of 2015, Viet Cong return with a required name change and a slight shift in sound. Though its predecessor contained elements of industrial and noise rock, Preoccupations is very much a post-punk album, and one that wears its influences on its sleeves. The band embrace the catchier end of the post-punk spectrum to an almost imitative degree: fans of The Cure and Echo and The Bunnymen will assuredly approve of a tracklist so purposely comprised of bass-driven, guitar glistening songs.
Those who aren’t as infatuated with the genre however, will possibly be frustrated by the band’s devotion to a sound that is very much of its time. It’s an intensely focused musical space, guided by a vocal delivery that seems simultaneously lethargic and passionate. Combined with the band’s rhythmic mauling, Matt Flegal’s harrowing snarls can feel fairly unsettling, capturing an intriguing space that evokes both Ian Curtis and Michael Gira. The music is animated and dynamic enough to carry Fegel’s uneasy vocals into the light, but the blend isn’t always a unanimous success.
There are moments where Preoccupations dare to branch out, like the evolving drone that draws album centrepiece “Memory” to a close, but the best cuts are those where the band sound comfortable within themselves. When everything clicks, it’s a sheer joy to listen to, but you are unfortunately left waiting until the final two tracks for such moments to arise. “Stimulation” is captivating, dynamic, and energetic as hell: it’s not only the major highlight of the record, but one of the most memorable rock tracks of the year so far. “Fever” finalises proceedings in forward-thinking fashion and even throws in a guitar solo that would sound right at home on a classic Strokes record.
With such a strong finish, Preoccupations naturally feels like a success, if only a moderate one. Flegal’s lyrics are primarily ridden with anxiety and general thoughts of trepidation: it seems appropriate that there is light at the end of a turbulent tunnel.
7 out of 10
Preoccupations is formless, but not in a bad way. The self-titled presentation is appropriate; the album is effectively forty minutes of the band’s sound, something defined more by character than by memorable statements. Luckily, it’s a good sound, a heavy post-punk drone reminiscent of the likes of Joy Division and early Public Image Ltd. The difference is that this is more at ease with its pleasantness, which I suppose is to be expected given that Preoccupations are Canadian.
Matt Flegal’s rough, booming vocals provide a fine foil to the polished anxiety of the rest of the band. They’re a solid unit with a clear mutual understanding, and that compensates for the occasional lethargy of the songwriting. I’ve chosen favourite tracks, but it isn’t as if they stand out per se — they’re just particularly good stretches of Preoccupations-ness. Which is what the record is when you get right down to it.
If you’re an ardent fan of morbid-yet-bouncy post-punk, then Preoccupations will prove an agreeable listen. If you’re not, its withdrawn, slow-burning nature will sometimes leave you frustrated. The album isn’t a showstopper, but I’m glad it’s out there and that I’ve listened to it. I like knowing that its sound is alive and well.
7 out of 10
Preoccupations have released an eponymous album that certainly grows on the listener. While the album opener and lead single, “Anxiety”, makes for a noisy, satisfying start to proceedings, things really don’t get going until the listener is being hypnotised by droning, transfixing ambience at the end of “Memory”. From here on, the album deviates off in a more explorative direction, with each track bringing unique characteristics to the album, be it the crunchy synths in “Forbidden” or the driving bass line that whips up a fast-paced energy by the end of “Stimulation”, the tail end of Preoccupations is where it shines.
Matt Flegel’s vocals have a gravely, distinctive quality that helps to form the band’s own sound while remaining reminiscent of its influences and contemporaries. Guitar and drum work is pretty solid throughout, though neither are given a lot of time in which to really shine. “Memory” does, however, have lovely passages of clean and screechy, distorted guitars complementing each other nicely over the top of agitated drums. Overall, the tracklist works well, with some seamless transitions that help to keep the pace of the album and never let tracks outstay their welcome.
With that said, there are odd blemishes throughout, with the end of “Forbidden” appearing out of nowhere before fading away awkwardly. It equates to an album of two halves for me though and it’s a shame as I feel less strongly either way for it and less likely to return to it as a whole. There’s definitely some great moments and some good tracks worked into this release, but it doesn’t quite do enough to stick with me for long.
6 out of 10