By Cathal Gunning
The band formerly known as Viet Cong return with a dark, dreamy post-punk record; the most fully-realized evocation of their unrelenting sound yet. The pithy title gives away nothing but the track-list, boasting titles like “Decompose” and “Manipulation,” is indicative of New Material’s mood. “It’s a ode to depression and self sabotage,” says frontman Matt Flegel. Indeed an atmosphere of clamouring unease and instability permeates the album, but spacey production deepens and elevates this darkness over the record’s predecessors.
The strongest songs on New Material are studies in pressure as it builds and dissipates, with the instrumentation and singing often at odds in this regard; when lyrics make sense their background is madness and vice versa. On “Disarray,” Flegel’s placid tones remind us “everything you’ve ever been told is a lie” as vibrant drums bounce behind his voice, the beat sounding as relentless as he does retired. On “Antidote,” a steady drumbeat underscores lyrics which are first squawked, then drawled; theatrical yells and emotionless monotone both contrasted with instrumentation which grows more chaotic as verses turn to chanted, repetitive mantras. This confluence of dead-eyed delivery and clattering accompaniment revives potentially cliché lyrics about an “information overdose.
The track segues into an unexpectedly-dreamy close as do many on the album, the influence of M83 producer Justin Meldal-Johnson bleeding into the band’s typically moodier aesthetic. These injections of levity are “disaster relief,” and deepening the palette of tones the band has to work with lends the record’s gloominess more impact than its predecessor, 2016’s self-titled Preoccupations.
In New Material, darkness excites and envelopes; delivery and instrumentals are alternately deadpan and jolting, never fully awake or asleep, shuffle-stepping between unsettled waking life and a chilling but invigorating dreamscape.