For all the post-punk out there – and there’s plenty of it – there aren’t many bands truly have something of the original, monochrome post-punk about them, and that comes with several pros and cons. For one, it now sounds original to draw from the predecessors of the genre – Joy Division, Wire, Gang of Four – as opposed to bands like Savages or Parquet Courts, who inject noise-rock or americana into their style. So when Preoccupations show up with their new self titled album with production that suggests a layer of fog between band and listener as well as industrial drums, Matt Flegel’s low groans and krautrocky rhythms, it sounds fairly refreshing. They’ve managed to slow it down to a walking pace, and in those spaces they’ve found more room for atmosphere over noisy sections.
Take the eleven minute centrepiece, ‘Memory’. After what could be described as the first song, a grinding drumbeat kicks in followed by propulsive bass that sounds fairly optimistic, an unusual sound for Preoccupations. Then, as the third suite swings into view, it turns into an ambient song with Eno-worthy snippets of noise that probably comes from a guitar, but who knows? They could have easily chopped ‘Memory’ up into three songs, but the decision to make it one makes it more of a centrepiece and a statement. It’s a moment of peace for Preoccupations during the ambient finale, and you’ve got to cherish those moments when songs called ‘Degraded’ and ‘Fever’ are ahead of you.
But those ambient moments are generally counterbalanced by ‘Degraded’, when Preoccupations bring the dance element back into post-punk that gave us Ian Curtis dancing. The dance element has always been in post-punk, sometimes more than others, but when the rhythm section of Preoccupations put their mind to it, the bassline on ‘Degraded’ is as dance-y as more melodic contemporaries like Warpaint. ‘Degraded’ is a highlight because it doesn’t try to play the monochrome misery card of ‘Anxiety’, but still retains a bit of the gloominess. A track like ‘Sense’, which is cut way too short, could have been a very interesting track given the time that it needs, but it gets treated like a prelude to ‘Forbidden’, which itself is also another one minute track. The album is 38 minutes, but if ‘Sense’ and ‘Forbidden’ were given the attention they want, it could have been a good 45 minutes and it wouldn’t have dragged.
The second half does slightly dip in quality, but up to ‘Degraded’, it doesn’t get much better. Preoccupations haven’t just changed their name, but have made some changes which will give them more room to expand as they go on from here. That means mastering both dance-punk and post-punky ambience, but they have shown they can do it on Viet Cong, and on Preoccupations too. The lyrics aren’t particularly morbid, but they have an interest in claustrophobia, numbness, anxiety, which completely suits Flegel’s preacher-omens. Is it an overdone theme in post-punk? Maybe, but listening to Preoccupations doesn’t sound like a tedious re-run, it sounds like a band on the right track with a new name and a corner of the genre which they can call their own.
Funnel Recommends: Zodiac / Memory / Degraded