Canadian post punk outfit and JOVM mainstays Preoccupations — Matt Flegel (bass, vocals), Mike Wallace (drums), Scott Munro (guitar) and Daniel Christiansen (guitar) — just released their fourth album Arrangements today. Longtime label home Flemish Eye will handle the release throughout Canada while the band will self-release the album outside of Canada.
Initial work on Arrangements began in the fall of 2019, when Flegel and Christiansen met up with Munro at his Montreal-based Studio St. Zo. The trio wrote the album’s material and recorded all of the bed tracks together. Wallace then joined in and recorded his parts. With all of the instrumental parts laid down, the band planned to reconvene in a few months and decided what else the songs needed.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the JOVM mainstays’ plans to reconvene in person were understandably halted. At the time Munro was in Calgary on tour with his partner when the shutdowns began, so he wound up staying with his parents for the next 16 months. He whipped up a make-shift studio in his parents house, and the rest of the record was finished remotely with Munro and Flegel sending tracks back and forth to each other: Munro’s vocal and keyboard parts were completed in that set up while Flegel’s vocal parts were laid down in New York. Holy Fuck‘s Graham Walsh mixed the record and Total Control‘s Mikey Young mastered it.
Pandemic isolation helped to encourage the band to reconnect with elements of their earlier releases: Munro, holed up in Calgary with endless weed gummies, obsessively doubled keyboards on guitars and vice versa, sampled the recordings using an old Ensoniq keyboard sampler and made new parts out of the samples. While on 2016’s self-titled and 2018’s New Material, Munro was committed to making keyboards the centerpiece, Arrangements sees guitar returning to the spotlight — an instrument that he describes as much more fun and visceral to play. Throughout most of the album, Christiansen employs a unique tuning that sees him blurring and smearing his parts while Munro’s standard-tuned riffs provide melody and clarity. The end result is an album that sonically will see the band weaving their guitar-heavy origins with their more synth-based recent work to create what may arguably be their most intense and playful album to date.
Much like its predecessor New Material, Arrangements‘ title is simultaneously literal and cheeky — a sharp contrast to their overall aesthetic. Thematically, the album is dark and direct: “The lyrics are pretty conspicuous and self explanatory on this one, but it’s basically about the world blowing up and no one giving a shit,” says Flegel.
“I’m certain that I’ve been writing about the same bleak things over and over again throughout the lifespan of Preoccupations,” Flegel adds. “This time around the themes of isolation, anxiety, trepidation, imminent self-annihilation, fear of totalitarianism, and general malaise unintentionally all feel a little more relevant than they have in the past. I guess that’s not a great sign, but I think we’ve taken this culmination of dark things, and turned it into something that can happily be listened to loudly, and that is maybe even…fun?”
In the lead-up to the album’s release, I’ve written about two album singles:
- “Ricochet,” a murky and dark churner featuring layers of glistening and distorted guitar slashes, rolling and lashing snares,atmospheric synth arpeggios and a propulsive bass line paired with Flegel’s mournful, embittered delivery and their penchant for rousingly anthemic hooks. And while being a slick and seamless synthesis of their earliest work and their most recent work, “Ricochet” manages to evoke the creeping, existential dread we have all felt lately — and perhaps continue to feel — during one of the most heightened and uncertain periods in recent memory.
- “Death of Melody,” a brooding and tumbling track centered around textured, reverb-drenched shoegazer-like haze, martial, machine-like rhythms paired with Flegel’s plaintive delivery fed through even more distortion. Sonically “Death of Melody” is a one-half funhouse in hell, one-half vacillating thoughts tumbling about in the mind of an anxious, uncertain person.
Arrangements‘ third and latest single “Slowly” begins with a murky prog rock-inspired bass and drum driven introduction before quickly ditching it for brooding atmospherics that fit the song’s malaise, self-flagellation and uneasy acceptable of annihilation.
Directed by Chad VanGaalen, the lysergic animated visual for “Slowly” fully embraces the song’s dark thematic concerns: The video begins with Picasso meets Dali-like animations that transform from humanoid to other object and back. We see a man turn into a skeleton lying at the bottom of a grave; faces turn into natural flora and fauna and so on.