This article first appeared at No Ripcord on September 20, 2016.


Preoccupations have had a mixed couple of years. When their debut came out in early 2015, they went by the name Viet Cong. Although the record itself was a shadowy take on post-punk that garnered much deserved notice, a good portion of that attention took the form of criticism over the band name. So now, a year later, the four-piece has been reborn as Preoccupations. Same aggressive, foreboding sound, but now with 100% less controversy!

With their second self-titled LP, Preoccupations returns with a crushing, take-no-prisoners attitude that infects these nine songs, at times as tense as a knife against your throat. Anxiety sets the tone with an opening drone that could be mistaken for distant church bells, setting you up for a destructively sinister groove. While Matt Flegel speaks-sings his way through the verses, he draws out the two-word chorus, sounding more like a corrupted audio file than a belted note.

Sure, it’s easy to see Joy Division in this band’s DNA, but don’t think for a second that it makes them predictable or obvious. Monotony is all angry, angular chords slashing across the background with momentary shifts to a captivating hook. But as it moves into Zodiac, the motorik beat shifts from industrial to electronic, bubbling rather than battering. Zodiac itself is a roller coaster, as the tempo dramatically changes with no sense of build-up. Flegel snarls his way through each line, issuing commands like “Retake your form/From the sad days/Focusing on/The task at hand.” The monolithic Memory feels like a couple of segments stitched together by a lengthy jam session, ending unexpectedly with an ambient trip. Sense is a minute-long harmonious transmission, both calm and needy.

Even when a track seems more “traditional,” Preoccupations still aims to throw you for a bit of a loop. At first, the slow-climbing keyboard and vibrating guitar of Degraded would fit on side two of Low, but the song curves into a raucous, speedy number, courtesy of quick-footed drumming and screeching guitars. Forbidden pulls off almost the reverse trick, sounding spacey, but then inexplicably fading out as soon as the guitar and drums kick in. Stimulation‘s only trick is that it doesn’t have one, existing as a propulsive, head-banging slice of post-punk.

Preoccupations is a strong follow-up to an excellent debut record. It showcases a band that is evolving and finding new ways to stretch out their sound. Now that Preoccupations will no longer be….preoccupied by objections to their former band name, there’s nothing left to hold them back.