In principle, being forced to rename your band ought to be an unmitigated nightmare. But for Preoccupations, having to scrap their controversial Viet Cong moniker could be seen as a blessing in disguise; their new identity feels much more in keeping with what they do: instantly engage and, soon after, engulf one’s mind.
Matt Flegel and co. wrote and recorded the album amidst a whole sea of change, though. With long-term relationships ending and the four members moving to different cities, the waters were hardly calm and while it’s no less dystopian than their Viet Cong debut, the follow-up displays a different, more personal kind of unease.
They start as they mean to go on. “With a sense of urgency and unease / Second-guessing just about everything,” rumbles Flegel on the opening lines of ‘Anxiety’, before droning about the “all-encompassing” feeling that gives the song its title. It’s followed by ‘Monotony’, a similarly self-explanatory exploration of that all too relatable pain of soul-destroying work.
Preoccupations’ defining moment comes in the immense form of ‘Memory’. So epic in its own right as to almost be detached from the album, it makes its way through three distinct yet seamlessly connected chapters over its 11-and-a-half-minute course, turning difficult subject matter – which is “watching someone lose their mind,” Flegel frankly explains in the album press release – into something achingly beautiful, assisted in no small part by the goosebump-inducing guest vocals of Dan Boeckner of fellow Canadians Wolf Parade. It might just be the defining moment of their career, too.
There’s always the risk of disrupting the flow of an album when you plonk a ‘Memory’-like mega-track not even halfway through it. But then Preoccupations don’t plonk it; they skilfully insert it. Track order is everything and as the strange, synth-propelled anthemics of ‘Degraded’ – easily the group’s most immediate offering so far – leads Preoccupations into its equally gripping second phase, they’ve clearly nailed it. The band’s name has changed; their status as untouchable standard-bearers of modern post-punk excellence has not.