[Album Review] Preoccupations- Preoccupations
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Release Date: September 16th, 2016
Label: Jagjaguwar/Flemish Eye

Rarely does a band have baggage to shed or prior controversy to leave behind on a debut self-titled album; but rarely does a band also have a second self-titled album with a different name, which still acts as a debut of sorts. Preoccupations exist as a band living in the shadow of their former selves, for good and unfortunate reasons alike. The good: their fantastic debut self-titled album reached into the noisier realms of 80s post-punk, from industrial to noise and back to punk. The unfortunate: their band name of choice was a little short-sighted, as the four guys didn’t properly handle the eventual backlash, criticism and subsequent boycotting that followed their popularity. However, much of what came to pass showcased Preoccupations as just four guys doing what they love and giving it their best shot.

With album opener “Anxiety,” Preoccupations hit the reset button – bass and drums chug along, while accompanied by both buzzing and shimmering synth leads filling out the dark, gloomy instrumentation. The track, and thus the album, begins hesitantly, synths percolating, waiting for Matt Flegel to begin “With a sense of urgency and unease/Second guessing just about everything.” These two lines are quite telling in their relevance to what has and will come before, during and after this song. Honestly, it’s a perfect way to sum up the Calgary band’s entire second album.

Throughout the tracklist, guitars wail, synths cut, bass stabs and drums pound, melding together to create a distinctively more sombre, reserved and moodier soundtrack that backs Flegel’s consistently defeatist, nihilistic lyrics such as, “Help has fallen by the wayside/Nowhere near to finding better ways to be” or “We’re absolutely obsolete […] There’s nothing left here to compete for/Degrade into a fraction of yourself.” Finding no escape or faith in the human race, at the very least we can acknowledge this degradation beyond and within ourselves.

While similarly melancholy, the sounds and melodies also find themselves at a crossroads between grim unease and guarded beauty. These two sides can be attributed to the sinewy, treble-heavy guitars and light, ethereal synthesizers heard respectively across the album. “Memory” crafts this instrumental interplay by having guitars and synths mirror and spin around each other through the track’s modest first three minutes only to then drastically shift gears, building enough tension to subsequently break out near the four minute mark into a blissful new wave horizon led by bass and soaring tremolo guitars. It’s not only a remarkable sonic change for the band, openly embracing the catchier side of their influences, but when the drums start next to a single synth note, there’s an uncanny similarity to A Flock of Seagulls’ “I Ran (So Far Away),” which isn’t a problem at all.

Elsewhere, Preoccupations remain agile and vicious with “Stimulation,” essentially occupying the same position as “Silhouettes” on the previous record – a catchy, immediate post-punk number with varying time signatures and syncopated shots of guitar and drums following the bass as usual. Besides two odd missteps and seemingly unfinished ideas – “Sense” and “Forbidden” – which ultimately fragment the album, leaving the tracklist disjointed and uneven, Preoccupations offer a terrific first/second album in their discography that leaves plenty of room for future growth and maturity.