It’s been written to death now, the story of Preoccupations (fka Viet Cong) and their name change. In short – amid a storm of cancelled shows and controversy, Viet Cong had to change their name, so they landed on Preoccupations. What’s clear, though, is that the controversy did nothing to knock them off their course of making fantastic, classically post-punk records.
After gaining huge acclaim for their last two records (2014’s Cassette and 2015’s Viet Cong), Preoccupations has come back with another self-titled album under their new name, and Preoccupations represents both a satisfying return to the tension and atmospherics in which the band has always excelled and an exciting step forward. There are no noisy, jagged guitar workouts quite like Viet Cong’s “Bunker Buster” or “Death” here, but where the band seems to have taken direction and run with it is from the more synth-heavy, reverb-soaked atmosphere of that album’s penultimate track, “Silhouettes.”
From the first track of Preoccupations, “Anxiety,” it’s clear that on this album, Preoccupations has pushed synth-drenched atmosphere to the forefront, and to great effect at that. Where once were tense and winding yet sharp and crisp guitar riffs, the guitars on this album are decidedly more effect-laden and hardly recognizable as guitars a lot of the time, like on the album’s second song, “Monotony,” where blown-out electronic percussion provides the base over which chiming, reverb-heavy guitar stabs and a chorus-soaked bass soaked bass line that would make Peter Hook proud play with sparse synth textures.
While a lot of the sonic palette of this album is a bit altered from what we came to know and love on Viet Cong, Preoccupations still manages to capture the same sense of unease and tension that made their previous records so memorable. The slightly off-kilter, lopsided grooves of “Forbidden” and “Memory” create a sense of building agitation the likes of which the band was able to create on Viet Cong, but the amped-up sense of atmosphere really sets these songs apart from the ones closest to them on previous releases.
If “Memory” were on a previous record it would probably be a little crisper and a little faster, with a build up over the course of its eleven-and-a-half-minute run to a noisy guitar blowout. On Preoccupations, however, its brooding, reverb-drenched groove is instead allowed to stagnate like a stuck record until suddenly the instrumental drops to a crushed-sounding electronic percussion loop, at which point the tempo raises slightly and a cool sheen of glassy synths swells up to build an instrumental that honestly could pass for New Order being played at seventy-five-percent speed in a tunnel. What “Memory” also manages to do, however, is to highlight the newfound sense of beauty that seems to permeate this record. The last five minutes or so of the track devolve into a stunning, glacial drone that wouldn’t be entirely out of place on a Tim Hecker or a William Basinski ambient record.
All things considered, Preoccupations has found a way to keep their old fans happy while still managing to push forward their craft and to find new ways to communicate a characteristically post-punk state of unease, all the while crafting glimpses of beauty into the mix.
Rating: 8 out of 10 Unknown Pleasures shirt guys