Album Review: Preoccupations – Preoccupations

By Eli Schoop, Copy Editor

[Jagjaguwar, 2016]

Rating: 6.5/10

Key Tracks: “Anxiety,” “Zodiac,” “Sense”

A key component of Preoccupations’ music is existential dread. This encapsulates from everything they do, from the downtrodden former members’ stint in Women to the current pledge as newly retitled Preoccupations. While Preoccupations builds upon this past ethos as succinctly as possible, it doesn’t manifest itself in the more explosive and captivating ways like on Public Strain and their Cassette EP.

What is most frustrating about this record is how clearly capable this band is. Bassist and vocalist Matt Flegel’s straining voice rarely wears its welcome, similar to The National’s Matt Berninger, yet less theater-esque and more suited to the saloon. The rhythm section is as tight as ever, precise and anxious drumming scattered all over this LP, in a traditional post-punk vein. It’s an atmosphere filled with malaise, privy to the whims of depression and fatigue.

However, the song structures and arrangements don’t complement the instrumentation as well as they could. Take for example, “Fever.” The last song on the album is usually a statement of intent, a bookend to a musical journey. Yet “Fever” leaves you feeling uninspired, a trope-filled indie number that relies on what came before, i.e. “Eyesore” off of Public Strain, with poorer results than the 2010 classic. It’s unusually mundane for this normally avant-garde band, and truly disappointing to say the least.

Songs like “Anxiety” show the potential though. The bass riff is killer, blunt and towering over the rest of the song like a warden at watch, while the synth line filters in staggering and dizzy. “Zodiac” has that same sort of riff-enabling catchiness, compelling comparison to both Interpol and Wire in its array of jagged edges. And “Sense” recalls “Penal Colony” or “Venice Lockjaw” with the Flegel brothers in their best moments, melancholy, delirious, full of grace and desolation.

It goes to show how vital a discernible style is on Preoccupations. If your music is happy, it has to be ecstatic. If it’s sad, it should be joyless and despondent, matching the worst moments in life. With this album, it’s stasis, a repeating echo of nothing, and not in a good way too. While well-composed and teeming with good songs, it lacks the flair and panache laden in the best Viet Cong/Women records, and meanders for it.

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