Preoccupations New Material

[Jagjaguwar; 2018]

Styles: post-punk, goth rock
Others: Ought, Women, Palm

The most troubling thing about Preoccupations’ depiction of anxiety and restlessness is the implication that it can happen to anyone. Vocalist Matt Flegel’s sketches of disaffection aren’t a result of urban claustrophobia nor an affliction of youth to be aged out of; they’re indiscriminate, arbitrary heat-seeking missiles with an untraceable origin. “With a sense of urgency and unease/ Second guessing just about everything,” a heavy-lidded Flegel sings on “Anxiety,” the opening song on the band’s 2016 self-titled album. “Recollections of a nightmare,” he continues, “So cryptic and incomprehensible.” Paranoia, fear, and any other auxiliary neuroses are as unyielding as they are inscrutable, according to Flegel.

The band’s music is a reflection of this reality. Drummer Mike Wallace channels the floor tom primitivism of Mo Tucker and Bobby Gillespie while following the contours and jerking pulls of the rest of Preoccupations’ math rock erratics. Likewise, guitar duo Scott Munro and Daniel Christiansen arpeggiate and screech into dizzying post-goth strumming patterns. This assemblage, when grounded by Flegel’s assiduous, grainy basslines, results in a tone poem like an M. C. Escher painting. Preoccupations’ sound is one of hallways turning into hallways, staircases spiraling forever downward.

This new album, composed of eight post-punk dirges (each summated by a monomial track title) and packaged under the noncommittal header New Material, continues Preoccupations’ pattern of documenting psychic unrest with microscopic detail. Founded on the band’s hefty but nervous guitar-bass-drums latticework and festooned with uneasy synthesizers that sound like white noise machines for people who never sleep, the album alternatingly lurches and shudders through scenes of intense maladjustment. Images of dead seas and rotting flowers color album opener “Espionage.” The mantra “To live is to suffer again and again” punctuates the choruses of “Antidote.” This kind of lyrical fodder is Preoccupations’ forte, and New Material works as an excellent signpost of where the group has been and where it’s headed.

New Material closes with the ominous soundscape “Compliance,” an instrumental morass of nebulous synths and other opaque sounds. For some listeners, it will serve as a respite from the barrage of negativity that pervades the record’s other seven cuts. For others, it will sound like the culmination of the band’s nightmare vision, an unnavigable fog perennially expanding. But Preoccupations aren’t here to guide us through this confusion; they themselves are lost in the thick of it.

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