Released 16 September 2016 via Jagjaguwar
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Those of you familiar with the work of Baz Luhrmann, may recall these immortal lines from his 1996 classic, Romeo and Juliet. But what does it mean? Apparently, nothing to do with actual roses, but is a suggestion that a name is little more than an artificial and meaningless convention. Oh, Baz, you’re so wise.
Preoccupations, until April this year, was better known as Viet Cong. Unfortunately, this name was too offensive for one Ohio college, which cancelled a show for that very reason and a Canadian music website which allegedly ran a “number of days since Viet Cong promised to change their name” counter, after the band announced plans to change its name in September 2015. Explaining that they were “artists and not politicians”, they apologised to anyone who had found the previous name offensive.
But it wouldn’t be the first band with an “offensive” name. Joy Division are a prime example, (add the word “Nazi” and do a quick Google search, if you didn’t already know) a band with an extremely controversial name but largely got away (perhaps because it was 1976, and Mark Zuckerberg was yet to invent life).
Naughty names aside, it’s not all Preoccupations has in common with Joy Division. Preoccupations, is dominated by experimental, drone-filled, post-punk songs.
It’s a slight deviation from 2015’s Viet Cong (the album, not the band. Confused yet?), which was full of deranged guitars and hyperactive riffs. Yet it’s equally as captivating in a moodier, atmospheric way. It feels more introspective than the debut album, a fact that is signaled out by track titles such as Monotony, Degraded and Anxiety. The latter was released as the teaser for the album and begins with a nervous chime, which builds into a looping, hypnotizing dreariness.
As with much of Preoccupations, Anxiety is built around oppressive synth and rumbling bass rather than fractures of battling guitars and breakneck tempos. Monotony follows with a warped gurgle, weaving around an almost pop-like structure as it settles you in to the album. Zodiac shakes that comfort away; pulsing, brooding and punching under the gravelly vocals of frontman, Matt Flegel. Where Viet Cong would have exploded into a wall of noise, Preoccupations holds back, simmering somewhat.
Stimulation is the black sheep; a track led by jagged guitars and snapping vocals. However, even after Flegel’s declaration that we’re “all gonna die”, the band fail to really let loose. Closing track Fever forges a defiant sound somewhere between Closer-era Joy Division and a Sega Mega Drive.
However, the difference between the two albums is best highlighted in the mammoth eleven-minute plus Memory: 2016’s version of the equally epic closing track from last year’s album, Death. Death was brutal; repetitive grooves and tumbling guitars whirled and plunged into a wall of noise, before collapsing into furious riffs and a savage pounding. Memory, despite its rapidly twisting pattern and structure, is a less challenging listen. It builds into a distant, tribal hum before swarms of synth pierce the reverb-filled drums and launch into an absolute dream of post-punk brilliance. It’s an aural sunrise which drifts into a wavering haze of distortion; a million miles apart from the gritty and deranged Death.
It’s a shame, that in the year of the bard, there’s just no Shakespeare quotes that apply here.
New name, different noise: Canadian four-piece, formerly known as Viet Cong, expand their sound with a more atmospheric and claustrophobic second album.