Friday, March 23, 2018

Preoccupations - New Material Review

Since their inaugural release under the now-defunct pseudonym Viet Cong, Preoccupations has always had a fascination beautifying the derelict. Post-Punk by force, Art Rock by heart, the band that split from the shattered remains of Women applies vibrant graffiti to industrial dilapidation, texturing intimidation and maleficence with colors that entice rather than dissuade. New Material goes further into the muck, attracted to the scent of Cold War paranoia byway of an oppressive dictatorship and anxious populace. Despite this increase in atmospheric abrasion, something that returns the group to their destructive Viet Cong days, a distinct lack of elegance and choice repetition of elements prevent New Material from being yet another high watermark in their discography.

On Preoccupations, the band used their tension and fear to pontificate the anxiety within us all. Memory degradation, sickness prevailing, forced confinement, all topics at the forefront. Much like that project, which opened with the aptly-titled 'Anxiety,' New Material begins with its defining motto as well; 'Espionage.' The personal perversions Preoccupations rallied on their self-titled becomes more cramped on New Material, as the same brooding dread over government oppression expands throughout the rabble, causing a claustrophobic ripple amongst the masses. These tight quarters can be felt on every waking moment of New Material, whether it's the profuse feedback of 'Solace,' the abject drums of 'Doubt,' or the brainwashed hypnotism of 'Antidote's' ending. The coldness is rampant, as even the glimmers of hope - the overflowing synths - feel inspired by fake smiles, coerced laughs, and autocratic propaganda. From a musical perspective, they are the weakest aspect of New Material, as Preoccupations attempted to amalgamate the gloominess of Viet Cong with the iridescence of their self-titled, a pairing that rarely works due to the invariability of the synths on display. In a few cases, like lead single 'Espionage,' they adhere to the drum patterns, failing to find purpose apart from being compliant wallpaper.

Matthew Flegel's voice, unfortunately, meets the same fate. Falling further into the decay, his smokey gravel persists throughout New Material, causing the downfall of tracks like 'Solace' and 'Doubt' for how imbued within the grasp of sadism they become. At times, Preoccupations gets creative with the production to mask his shortcomings, something that's seen on the 80's Synthpop melodies of 'Disarray,' the progressive layering of 'Decompose,' and the noise-powered build-ups of 'Manipulation.' The latter represents one of New Material's best for this very reason, as the forging sulk that curdles ears at the peak of each verse, and the penultimate climax, truly eschews expectation. However, nothing defies the odds more than the purely instrumental closer 'Compliance;' a first for Preoccupations. And what a successful diversion it is. Pure dread seeps down the halls, as the band evolves into a Post-Industrial powerhouse. Flegel's absence is a breath of fresh air, even with air this volatile. Instruments topple atop one another like a crumbling city as nuclear warheads lay it to waste. Noise elements, pushing past the apocalyptic extremes of Post-Rock, sheer color from the frame as humanity itself is ripped to shreds. 

'Compliance' is a powerful closer in every sense of the word, and one that New Material, arguably, doesn't deserve. The submissive close is representative of the communal decimation Preoccupations' third album lays bare. Whereas Preoccupations overcame hurdles on a personal level, New Material aimed to disclose the ugly underbelly we all live in fear of. Atmospherically it succeeds, succumbing to the truths it unearths by album's end. However, musically it's the weakest project they've collected, with standouts limited to creative structuring ('Manipulation') and overwhelming ambience ('Compliance'). Perhaps beautifying annihilation does have its setbacks.

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