By Keeghan Rouleau
CALGARY – Preoccupations’ latest offering New Material is thematically and sonically entangled in fear, guilt, and anxiety.
Opening track “Espionage” sets the post-punk tone with isolating drum rhythms determined to trap the listener in a cavern of sound. Just as the discomfort of the echoing percussion reaches its breaking point, a Joy Division-esque synth blasts through to the foreground, quickly followed by vocalist and bassist Matt Flegel’s drawling, spoken-style vocals.
From that jumping-off point, the album showcases an array of textures and moods, changing rapidly from get-up-and-dance tunes that’ll shake ya bones, to raw and exhausting trips. It’s a challenging, emotional recording inspired by the tulmutlousness that has long followed the band, who has spent the last several years touring the world and gaining international acclaim.
“We started [recording] February 2017, we were still touring around until September 2017, so we recorded this album in maybe seven or eight different sessions over that year, and our studio was pretty much whichever room we had our stuff in. We were recording vocal tapes in hotel rooms and shit on the road. So, it was totally all over the place,” begins Flegel.
“The songs are physically different, because the rooms that we recorded them in were physically different. We’d borrow equipment that we don’t own from our friends, so we would tinker around with as much of that as we possibly could. It’s a very good kind of representation of a studio record. We didn’t have a shape of a record in mind when we went into making it.”
At its core, New Material is a collection of jam-sessions; the approach to recording was radically different than what Preoccupations did on their 2016 self-titled release, which was planned out from the beginning.
“I’d say if anything, this record is a product of studio experimentation. We didn’t have songs going into the studio. For the first two albums we went into a studio, and set our shit up, and played our songs live off the floor, and that’s how you hear them. We couldn’t do very much of that with this record.”
The band’s history is complicated. After releasing a tape and critically acclaimed full-length as part of the band Women, the original quartet went on hiatus and then experienced tragedy when guitarist Chris Reimer passed away. Two members of Women then went on to form Viet Cong, who released a Polaris prize nominated self-titled album that evoked Talking Heads and Birthday Party with its cold reverberating drums and poppy inclinations. Following the controversy that came with that bellicose name, Viet Cong were finally rechristened in 2016 as Preoccupations, nearly a year after their announcement. Determined to turn their continuous strife into a source of inspiration, the band released a self-titled record rich with tense adrenaline and mind-meltingly thick with grimy riffs that recalled new wave greats like Echo & the Bunnymen.
Following that record’s success, Flegel, drummer Mike Wallace, synth player and guitarist Scott Munro, and second guitarist Daniel Christiansen immediately put themselves to work on their next compulsively addictive record. New Material, a headphone-worthy album that demands close listening and repeated spins to catch all the tiny details, scratches that sonic itch.
Following the release of New Material, the band intends to start their 2018 tour with two nights in Toronto. It’s certainly not their first jaunt across the world, but this time Preoccupations have opted to do something a little differently than in the past.
“I had this idea that I was talking over with our booking agent, about doing multiple nights in small venues rather than one big show,” he says.
True to form, the band will perform twice in major cities like Montreal, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles… and their hometown of Calgary. After that, they depart to Europe.
“I like being able to see the people at the back of the room if I want. We play better in small place; we’re always more excited playing in a small packed room. It’ll be dark and it’ll be sweaty.”
Get up close and personal with Preoccupations when they perform on May 4 and 5 at The Palomino Smokehouse and Social Club (Calgary).anxiety, fear, Flemish Eye, guilt, Preoccupations, The Palomino Smokehouse and Social Club