Over the past couple of years, I’ve written quite a bit about the Canadian post-punk act Preoccupations, and as you may recall the band which features Matt Flegel (bass, vocals), Mike Wallace (drums), Scott Munro (guitar) and Daniel Christiansen (guitar), initially formed under the highly controversial name Viet Cong, which put the band in the middle of a furious and tumultuous debate centered around the appropriation of terms, names and symbols associated with historical groups and actions that evoke the horrors of despotism, fascism, genocide and so on. Ultimately, the band decided it was best to change their name before the release of their highly-anticipated sophomore album, an album that that found the individual members of the band in an unsteady and uncertain positions: at the time, each member and relocated to different cities across North America, which made their long-established writing process of writing and testing material while on the road both extremely difficult, if not highly impractical. Along with that, several members of the band were reeling from having serious, long-term relationships end, around the time they were preparing to enter the studio. And unlike their previously recorded efforts, the band went into the writing sessions without having a central idea or theme to consider or help guide them along, essentially making the recording sessions akin to collectively blind leap of faith. Eventually the album’s material wound up drawing from something specific and very familiar — the anxiety, despair and regret that causes sleepless nights.
Building upon a growing reputation for crafting dark and moody post-punk centered around themes of anxiety, uncertainty, creation, destruction and futility will be releasing their third album New Material is slated for release on Friday through Jagjaguwar Records, and the album, which finds the band recording and producing themselves is as the band’s Matt Flegel said in press notes, “an ode to depression. To depression and self-sabotage, and looking inward at yourself with extreme hatred.” Interestingly, much like their sophomore album, the band met without having much written or demoed beforehand — and according to the members of the band, it was arguably one of the most collaborative writing sessions they ever had as a band, with the sessions being extremely architectural in nature, with some ideas (proverbially speaking) being built up while others were torn down to the support beams. And although they didn’t initially know what the songs were about or where they were going with them, they had resolved to let the material show and not explicitly not tell.
However, the writing and recording sessions reportedly led to a reckoning for the band’s Flegel. “Finishing ‘Espionage’ was when I realized. I looked at the rest of the lyrics and realized the magnitude of what was wrong,” says Flegel. In fact, the murky and angular Manchester/Joy Division-like first single “Espionage,” while being among the most danceable songs they’ve written and released, focuses on a narrator, who has finally become aware of a disturbing penchant for self-sabotage in every aspect of his life. “Antidote,” New Material’s second single was centered around propulsive, industrial clang and clatter based rhythm meant to convey a sweaty anxiety, while being about how people forget that we’re all talking, walking, shitting animals, who have an infinite amount of knowledge within their fingertips but still manage to repeatedly make the wrong choices.
“Disarray,” New Material’s third single is a meditative and slow-burning single featuring shimmering guitar chords, an angular and propulsive bass line, organic drumming and boom bap-like drum machine work during the song’s bridge. And while superficially nodding at Turn On the Bright Lights-era Interpol, the song captures something much darker and uncertain — as it’s centered around someone, who from their perspective, views everything they’ve ever known to be a lie. As the band’s Flegal recalls, When I was writing ‘Disarray,’ it started off with an image of a mother combing her daughters hair that came into my mind, I liked the metaphor of splitting the braids and combing through the tangles, and wrote the rest of the lyrics around that image. This song sat untouched for close to 6 months as a recording with just bass and drums before we came back to it and wrote and recorded the guitar line while out of our minds one night in the early AM.”
Directed by Ruff Mercy, the recently released video pairs animation and live footage of the band’s Flegel walking on a deserted beach while singing the song’s lyrics, shot with a grainy, almost Instagram-like filter. At points, animated and cartoonish figures and lines burst into the proceedings and superimposed over Flegel’s face to convey deep, inner turmoil and chaos.