For the plurality of post-punk disciples, there came the point where standard punk was not enough. Evidently, prowling the stage with a maddened gait proved too primal for the defiant artsy youth; gazing at these tuneful manics from the sweaty pit undoubtedly yields the same displeasure. In the canon of the underground, the ancillary role of “post-anything” scans as either rogue minds acting against the monotony of a genre’s present state or a tangible footnote of musical structure that evolves through a span of time. Through countless case studies of bands-trailblazing-some-cool-but-new-shit triumphs, it’s clear these endeavors demand a dash of determination quite unlike the focus wielded by bands trapped in the mold. Fast forward thirty years in the wake of post-punk’s reinvestment in rock’s more sensible values—you might find yourself swarmed by concurrent trends, namely the stain of indie rock in the aspirations of any budding star with an aversion to stadium venues and studio polish.
Some bands are naturals in attaining the wit and lore of their forebears. The labyrinthine narrative behind Calgary four-piece Preoccupations hashes out the tragedies, contentions, and sonic dismalness of post-punk’s murky depths in six years’ time, all the while churning out indie’s most consuming arrangements in recent memory. Rising from the vestiges of Women, arguably Alberta’s most dexterous contribution to noise rock, the ensemble minus late guitarist Chris Reimer christened themselves as Viet Cong, and issued their self-titled debut, a bristling and seismic collection of low-end rock. The outpouring of acclaim and exposure halted upon skepticism of the band’s moniker, leading to digital think pieces and canceled shows that necessitated some form of action. In late 2015, Viet Cong announced yet another rebranding, this time denoting themselves as Preoccupations, and released their sophomore, again self-titled, effort. Their examinations grew more dismal and reflective of industrial influences like Clock DVA and Leather Nun. With much of their chronology straddling a state of limbo, when do Preoccupations begin to settle down?
Behold the plainly-titled New Material, a fusion between Viet Cong’s primeval embrace of strength and Preoccupations’ expanding electronic palette. The assembly of entices within the eight stringy tracks are formidable enough to render New Material a post-punk record upon first listen, but a cobweb of interlinked movements for studious listeners. It all emerges forth with the tinny percussive slaps that kick off jumpy opener “Espionage,” only to devolve and discolor as the band trudges onward through scorched soundscapes. Frontman Matt Flegel croons of “change [as] everything,” in a mesmeric pattern as if it’s an exercise for assurance or a broader lesson to anyone eavesdropping; abiding by the feckless piss-take that is post-punk songwriting, it’s only reasonable Fiegel insists that change is “nowhere to be found.”
Most notably, New Material showcases some of Preoccupations’ (and former incarnations) most gratifying melodies, whether its sparkle permeates the cloudy environs or nuzzles languidly into the haze. The team effort elegance of “Disarray” speaks the exact opposite, meshing Scott Munro and Daniel Christiansen’s sleek guitars with Michael Wallace’s billowing drum pulse. On the crunchier side of things, “Solace” mines Flegel’s raspy vox juxtaposed between clashing keyboard lines. Curiously enough, these offerings comprise the few skippier numbers of New Material, the rest of which knuckling down on swirling or slothful experimental pieces. Waves of ethereal reverb crest in the keyboard dirge of “Doubt,” without much in the scope of discernible intentions. There’s no exhaustive sway to either faction—New Material is an extensive foray into the serene powers of post-punk, even encroaching upon the visceral grace of coldwave with “Antidote”‘s nightclub downer pitting Grace Jones against Asylum Party in a deathmatch.
To designate New Material as the potential breakthrough Preoccupations deserve (but most likely will evade) is a sort of a piecemeal stretch, although there are contenders for melodies that will extend their influence beyond prior parameters. These instances of clarity are somewhat double-edged in a sense that Preoccupations emanated from the darksome reaches of indie rock and could potentially benefit from remaining in such shadowiness. A distant cousin of this disposition, last month’s Room Inside the World from Ought equally endorses a change in strategy for the sardonic backers of contemporary post-punk. New Material may signal Preoccupations’ precipice into conventional tunesmith without the bleary-eyed padding of yesteryear nipping at their tendencies; for others, these eight tracks are a routine business for a band who takes their job with an existential frame of mind.