Initially formed as Viet Cong, the members of the band now known as Preoccupations — Matt Flegel (bass, vocals), Mike Wallace (drums), Scott Munro (guitar) and Daniel Christiansen (guitar) — unknowingly and unwittingly found themselves in the middle of a furious and tumultuous controversy around cultural appropriation and the association with historical groups that immediately evoke the horrors of despotism, war, genocide, etc. And if you’ve been frequenting this blog or the rest of the blogosphere, you’d know that the members of the band made the difficult decision of changing their name last year.
Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site over the past year, you’d know that when the members of the band reconvened to write the material the would eventually comprise their forthcoming self-titled effort as Preoccupations, each member of the band had found themselves in an unsteady an uncertain state. Some members of the band had years-long relationship end around the time, they were all to reconvene for the album’s recording sessions, and the members of the band had all relocated to different cities across North America, which made their long-established process of writing material while on the road extremely difficult, if not altogether impossible. Adding to the growing sense of uncertainty within the writing and recording process, the members of the band went into them without having a central idea of theme to consider or guide them; and in fact the sessions would be the equivalent of a collective, blind leap of faith.
As the band’s frontman Matt Flegel has explained in press notes, the album’s material draws from very specific things — the sort of things that has most people up at night, fraught with anxiety and despair. And while the album’s first single “Anxiety,” was about the process of both natural and forced change upon the band and people generally, while on another level the song captures the uncertain and uncomfortable push and pull of human relationships, including the bitterness, regret, ambivalence, frustration and self-doubt they almost always gender within us all. The self-titled album’s second single “Degraded” while being a tense and angular song also may arguably be the most straightforward and hook-laden song they’ve written to date. However, lyrically speaking, the song reveals that its full of bilious accusation and recrimination while evoking a dysfunctional relationship splintering apart.
The album’s third single “Memory” is an expansive song that clocks in at just a little under 11:30 and is comprised of three distinct and very different movements held together by the song’s central narrative, which focuses on how much the past and its distortions, influences and invades every relationship and aspect of our lives and relationships — while also suggesting the vacillating cycles of bipolar mania. The song’s lengthy and atmospheric introduction consists of shimmering guitar chords paired with an angular, slashing bass line, and propulsive drumming and seems to look back on a relationship with a bit of regret. The song’s second section sounds as though it drew from Joy Division/New Order as shimmering guitar chords, soaring synths and Wolf Parade‘s Don Boecker contributing lilting falsetto vocals and an anthemic hook — and while being a bit bittersweet, the section also conveys a profound sense of joy and wonder before fading out into a coda consisting of gently undulating feedback that lingers with a spectral quality.
As the band’s Scott “Monty” Munro explains in press notes “‘Memory’ was the second song that we started working on for Preoccupations after ‘Anxiety.’ It was unique to the sessions of the record in that we worked on it in every studio that we were in. The idea we had for its arc made it necessary to put more work into it than any of the other tracks. The finished result was worked on in six different studios over almost two years. Getting Dan [Boeckner of Wolf Parade] to record the vocals was the final piece of the puzzle and was Matt [Fiegel]’s idea. We were tracking in Montreal and cold-called him to see if he wanted to sing a duet of songs, but his vocal was so perfect that we didn’t use Matt’s for most of it.” And the end result may be the most cinematic song they’ve released to date.
Directed by award-winning director Kevan Funk, the recently released short film/music video as he told NPR was loosely based on the story of Mohammed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor, who after years of harassment by police, who lit himself on fire in the middle of traffic in December 2010, much like the acts of self-immolation performed by Buddhist monks protesting the Vietnam War in the 1960s. And much like those protests, some have said that Bouazizi’s protest may have triggered both the Tunisian Revolution, in which the country’s then-president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was forced to step down from power — and later the events of the Arab Spring. “I don’t mean to sound dark, but there’s something poetic about a fire burning so intensely that one day, it actually physically manifested,” Funk explains. “You ask yourself, ‘how much pain can we take? How much control do we have?'”
Starring the band’s Mike Wallace as the video’s lead, the video follow a man as he cycles and vacillates through the bipolar mania of action and boredom, while becoming further lost in his own mind and disconnected from others. Gradually, Wallace’s character becomes increasingly obsessed with fire and loses his grip on his own sanity and reality. Disturbingly, the video reminds us that there’s only so much loneliness and pain we can take before we shatter, and that our grip on ourselves and our sanity is ftenuous at best. But it also asks the viewer “Do you know your mind? Do you know how much you can take? Do you know the darkness within your heart?”