Preoccupations have never been afraid of ripping it up and starting again. They had to when they changed their name from Viet Cong, and the transformations continue on New Material. The band went into the studio with producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen with just a few lyrics and took a more collaborative approach to songwriting, and the leap they make on this album is greater than might have been expected.
A clattering of iron bars before the brawl in a slaughter house - that’s how Preoccupations’ latest roars into life on opener ‘Espionage’. Aggressive, unsettling, intense and emotionally-tearing, it’s very much business as usual for the Calgary outfit. ‘Decompose’ and ‘Disarray’ offers some of the lighter shades in the palette, tunefully mixing Matt Fegel’s harmonious disenchantment with sparkling synths and driving percussion pushing them into the territory of Joy Division or The Chameleons.
Opening track "Espionage" starts off with distant, revered percussion that recalls early Liars , but changes instantaneously, welcomed by warm, lush snyths. Subtly, it's these types of incorporations on New Material that offer a sense of redirection for Preoccupations . Their writing process is gradual, not immediate - and for them, it's a technique that they are slowly beginning to master.
The band’s music is a reflection of this reality. Drummer Mike Wallace channels the floor tom primitivism of Mo Tucker and Bobby Gillespie while following the contours and jerking pulls of the rest of Preoccupations’ math rock erratics. Likewise, guitar duo Scott Munro and Daniel Christiansen arpeggiate and screech into dizzying post-goth strumming patterns.
Preoccupations walk a high wire. On the one hand, the Canadian post-punk quartet, who originally took their name from the brutal insurgent group the Viet Cong and only changed it three years into their career after extended protests, tend to come off casually apolitical. "We're just playing music," frontman Matt Flegel said regarding the name's backlash in a 2016 interview.
Right from the start, Preoccupations seemed sick of naming their music. After three (if you include their previous monikers Women and Vietcong) self-titled albums, here they are with the no-nonsense post-album-name New Material. While many bands take from vaguely similar post-punk influences - Preoccupations have, over their first two albums, carved themselves out a rather distinct sound.