Friday, September 16, 2016

Preoccupations - Preoccupations Review

In 2007, a Canadian group named Women formed. Bred off the dying strokes of Joy Division and the otherworldly weirdness of Deerhunter, the four-man band quickly rose to prominence with their delectable brand of Post-Punk that welcomed in an Indie crowd seeking wonderful production and clean aesthetics. Then, in 2012, Chris Reimer, their guitarist, passed away in his sleep, officially putting an end to the group. The split diverged pathways, leading prime vocalist Patrick Flegal to form Cindy Lee, a Noise Pop trio, while his brother Matthew and drummer Michael Wallace formed Viet Cong, a band focused on bringing the artistic edge back to the Post-Punk scene. They did so with their beloved self-titled debut, which gave them notoriety along with some backlash towards their namesake. Another name change ensued, with the group returning under the title Preoccupations. Following along? For Matthew and Michael, this will somehow be their third self-titled debut. Don't be fooled though, Preoccupations aren't amateurs in this field, and much like Viet Cong, this LP aims to prove that. With a refined attention to detail, a clearer sense of vision, and some synths, the group finds themselves, much like their namesake, constantly changing while remaining tuck neatly under their Art Punk umbrella.

In the Internet age, musicians have tried, in many different ways, to appeal to a crowd that prides themselves on looks. As you've seen many times this year, even by Indie artists such as Bon Iver or Mac DeMarco, memes or other similar lowbrow bait gets introduced into the fold. Just take a peek at 22, A Million's tracklist and tell me Justin Vernon isn't trying to pigeonhold an aesthetic. In a visual age, creating that aura and finding that niche is essential. Preoccupations have done that by finding beauty in the ugly. Like other similar artists who incorporate elements of Noise, their intentions aren't gimmicky but more so pristine. From the high-quality music videos, the hipster attire, the neatly arranged album art, and the one-word tracklist, Preoccupations aims to take its inhabited genres to a level where the art can be appreciated by a peering crowd who scoffs at tomfoolery. Lead single and opener 'Anxiety' succeeds in sending a strong whiff of goth posh to the forefront, with ominous synths, elements of drone, and sneering vocals. It also acts as the perfect summation of Preoccupations as a whole. It finds elegance in the grotesque.

Much of Preoccupations appeal can be reduced to the worthiness of those three things; droning guitars, synths, and vocals. Nearly each track centers around these elements and how they all intertwine with each other. 'Monotony' and 'Zodiac,' split up only by a flawless transition, see Flegal, the lead vocalist, capture the mood set by the alienating factors. The climax of 'Zodiac,' for example, sounds almost session-like by nature, with how each instrument crescendos on its own will, before Flegal's wailing vocals restores structure to the chaos. On Viet Cong, Flegal's vocals did the same thing, setting a precedent that led to some glorious moments, like the mid-verse switch-up on 'Continental Shelf' or the rapidly ascending hook on 'Pointless Experience.' Here the same effect is accomplished, albeit to a lesser degree. There's tracks like 'Sense' that Flegal is able to parse through with a parched breath, or 'Stimulation' where a rise in tension leads to Flegal taunting that "we're all dead inside" over eery hollowness. While Viet Cong found success in minute fixtures, Preoccupations' most impressive pieces are those on a larger scale.

That includes the two standouts, 'Memory' and 'Fever.' The former, looming over the tracklist at an impressive 11 minutes, works in three distinct passages, just like Viet Cong's bestial finale 'Death.' Unlike that track, 'Memory' finds solace in the hauntingly beautiful, not the repugnant odor of self-immolation. It starts with Flegal reflecting on someone's failed transgressions before a looping drum passage takes us to the best part of the album. A part that boldly features Dan Boeckner from Wolf Parade on lead vocals. Acting as a scaling tower for the rest of Preoccupations to gawk at, seething guitars, background vocals, rhythmic synths, and a falsetto captured in the thick of it all, collides to make for one of 2016's best moments. The extended outro mimes post-tragedy, with plumes of smoke rising through a haze of ashes that consumes what memories were left. As the centerpiece of the album though, it feels quite out of place, with its signaling of closure and all. However, actual finale 'Fever' more than makes up for it, utilizing an anthemic mantra ("you're not scared, you're not scared, carry your fever away from here") to catapult the album before the harsh drone peels it away. Not even some Ratatat-like synth work can prevent the track from being a triumph.

If there's one place where Viet Cong surpasses Preoccupations though, it's the record's overall consistency. Packed to the brim with ideas, each of the seven Viet Cong tracks felt hulking. On two occasions here, 'Sense' and 'Forbidden,' the group returns to the self-titled days of Women where half-sighted visions marred an engrossing project. Neither track stumbles mind you, in fact quite the opposite, they both contain grand ideas, which leaves the sub-two-minute lengths a bit unsatisfactory. Lastly, 'Degraded' and 'Stimulation' suffer a tad bit from rudimentary measures. The former simulates an Interpol track, feeling unordinary to the group for just how ordinary it is, while 'Stimulation' acts as run-of-the-mill fodder that would fit better as a Viet Cong B-side. Nonetheless, none of these moments all out hamper the album's immense quality. Preoccupations doesn't cement itself in quite the same way as Viet Cong, but it does feel like a proper follow-up, containing similar fragments while evolving at the same time. You'd think involuntary name changes would impede a group's progress, but for Preoccupations the image reconstruction has doubled as a symbolized metamorphosis.

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