The band was once known as Viet Cong is now Preoccupations due to burgeoning political controversy over their name. The newly named post-punk outfit’s second self-titled record opens with the familiar murkiness the group beautifully rendered in last year’s Viet Cong then self titled effort. “Anxiety,” which is as the name suggests is burdened with sallow synth and neurotic monotone that only is momentarily broken through by a few uplifting keys between chorus runs of ‘encompassing / anxiety’ until its end. It is a rerun take on the coldness of vocal post-punk in its infancy.
Looking back toward their debut Viet Cong, where their post-punk structures lent more to their noise rock ambitions – Preoccupations feels closer to a traditional leaning. There’s subtle and fine instances of space seen from the masters like Wire, whom tread the same post-punk and experimental tone. Here, as opposed of the more hazy upbringings of their noisy post-punk debut, there is a sense of temperamental attrition.
This all sounds like Preoccupations are merely trying to bait and switch the same approach more akin to 80s goth punk, but with far more all-so intensifying and engulfing atmosphere that is natural to the group given their past effort. This infrequent punching through of brief instances with clarity like in “Zodiac” are the real haul. At times, Matt Flegel’s moments of strength are seen once the band pinches through this phase with its suffocating nature while guitarists Daniel Christiansen and Scott Munro are given moments of respite. It’s a formidable track that only gets stronger as each successive push that is equally monstrous by Mike Wallace’s pulsing percussion. The 11 and half minute “Memory” acts as a quiet period in its division by track’s end, marking a shift of philosophy in its calmness to really sink in. And for few minutes it really does, but at times, like on “Simulation,” they are small spaces in time and the group simply wants to push that tension between the two.
The unnerving pace of which we’re grown accustomed by the band’s first album isn’t nearly as evident in the long run because of its naturally isolating nature in every track that merely feels like cold air running through a hot room – succinct and inviting, yet not nearly as lasting as we’d all like. When Preoccupations gives structured tunes like in “Anxiety” or “Degraded” they hit sweetly because it is such a distressing difference from its predecessors.
What is more evident is the frantic trauma that incurs on this record. “Simulation” in particular, is an incessant climb of heaviness to the top until it slows to a crawl, only to be brought back to its heights again. Thankfully, the even-keeled closer, “Fever” brings its warm synth full circle from the beginnings of the record to bring us down from the schizophrenic mood that all came before. Preoccupations’ latest has a few second-half pacing issues but apart from that, it is a worthy follow up to what was for some, one of the strongest records of 2015.