Really/Not/Really: Preoccupations’ Preoccupations

Senior Justin Kline gives a deeper insight into Preoccupation and their new self-titled album in this second issue of Really/Not/Really.

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Preoccupations (formerly Viet Cong) have now had their go at a second self-titled album – a second defining statement. Following the disintegration of the critically acclaimed Calgary-based indie rock band Women after just three years, drummer Mike Wallace and bassist/vocalist Matt Flegel reincarnated themselves as Viet Cong. A cassette and self titled album placed them in a comfortable spot as a post-punk revival band with genuine character, a character of twisted industrial imagery, channeling disillusionment while advancing a more bombastic take on Women’s already mutated pop sound. Rebranding as Preoccupations, the band has maintained the tonal shift away from confrontational to introspective with a clean but less exciting sophomore album. 

Preoccupations has settled down, free of the expectations that the knife-edge sonic legacy of Women lent them.”

Where Viet Cong opened with a marshal thunder, the appropriately named “Anxiety” has a minute of droning guitar and buried keyboard before a punch of drums kicks the former two into a single. “Monotony” and “Fever” are further evidence of the shift away from the clattering, paranoia which made Viet Cong a presence. “Monotony”’s brittle drums and “Fever”’s keyboards are more in line with early goth than the noise of “Death” or “Continental Shelf.”

While not entirely new, their more prominent place leaves the guitars being blunted to cooperate with the repetitive beats and shinier keys. Both impressions are probably due to a more reserved mix, which also allows for the vocals to take a new stance. Before openly despondent, now pensive lyrics reveal a similar dread.

Preoccupations album cover
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Preoccupations album cover

Where they differ is in the narrator’s engagement with themselves, from “We went too far the other way/We will never get home (“Death”),” to “You don’t have to say sorry/For all the things you failed to do,” and the final, affirming statement of “Fever,” “You’re not scared/Carry your fever away from here.” The understated approach taken is executed appropriately, but certain songs underwhelm when compared to the drive of “Stimulation” or “Zodiac.” After three solid, unsurprising cuts -in a confusing choice- Preoccupations decide to move their second eleven minute song, “Memory,” to the very middle of the album.

Where “Death” propelled Viet Cong to an explosive finale, the conclusion of all the built up dread, “Memory” cashes in on tension for a decent seven minutes and then whimpers into an underwhelming attempt at one of Women’s experimental interlude tracks. There is no bridging of the atmospheres. From noisy guitar and soaring vocals over a rock-solid groove, to an ambiance of periodic waves in twenty seconds. Back-to-back “Sense” and “Forbidden” are the other two disappointments; both less than a minute-and-a-half, “Sense” at least functions as haunting, but “Forbidden” just stands alone in being simply underdeveloped.

On a new self-titled, Preoccupations has settled down, free of the expectations that the knife-edge sonic legacy of Women lent them. In its divergence from the memorable Viet Cong and Women grime to malaise, it is ultimately appreciable that they can now explore influences without pure abstraction and do said influences justice.