Perhaps suitably, the final track on Vietcong’s S/T 2015 album was called ‘Death’, and due to the fairly baffling and sustained case of ‘Vietcong vs American audiences’, this premonitive title came to pass and Vietcong disappeared down the Cu Chi tunnel and have now re-emerged a year later as Preoccupations.
So does this new incarnation mark a continuation of Vietcong or something entirely new? The drone and synth laden opener ‘Anxiety’ may indicate the latter, but as the album progresses there comes a realisation that for a band with less than 20 released tracks under their belt, Vietcong/Preoccupations have a surprising amount of instantly identifiable traits running through their music. Regardless of the frequent sonic experiments Scott (Monty) Munro and Danny Christiansen throw into tracks like ‘Monotony’ and ‘Zodiac’, there are always the consistent anchors of Matt Flegel’s wandering bass-lines and vitriolic growls, and Mike Wallace’s intense relentless endurance pounding, evident in the mix of even the quietest (and weakest) track ‘Sense’.
However, although the core foundations of the tracks haven’t changed it’s evident their palate has evolved, and there is far more emphasis on post punk synth hooks, way more variation in guitar tones and playing style as well as swaths of industrial noise and feedback from both of the aforementioned.
Preoccupations combine these sounds in a way that put them a level above. Few things are justifiably deemed epic these days but album centrepiece ‘Memory’ is definitely one of them. A track that starts as a ‘Continental Shelf‘ Vietcong pounder, transforms into a new romantic post punk pop anthem (complete with guest vocal appearance from Dan Boeckner) and then into a Sonic Youth’s ‘The Sprawl’ style noise bliss out, Memory is demonstrative of Preoccupations’ ability to effortlessly traverse various soundscapes in one sitting and make them their own. Content wise, it has a rare redemptive streak of reliving trauma but also the allowance of absolution: ”you don’t have to say sorry for all the things you failed to do / you don’t need to say sorry for all the times when everything fell through.”
It’s a harder, darker listen than the first, reflected as much through the lyrical content as the instrumentation: the titles of Anxiety, Monotony, ‘Degraded’ and ‘Fever’ alone indicate the grave perspective of modern life Flegel’s forlorn lyrics offer up. Automation, fears of being left obsolete, unsustainable social structures crumbling, helplessness and encompassing anxiety are just a few of the ideas that are touched on throughout the album. It’s a repetitive, debased and stressful life and there are no easy solutions.
It’s the expertise of which Preoccupations put repetition and variety to use which makes S/T a masterful listen. It sees Preoccupations honing their sound and further becoming themselves without losing the crucial spontaneity that marked their Vietcong S/T, transcending their obvious influences and history (this LP sounds a lot less like Flegel and Wallaces’ former project Women than the first Vietcong LP) and really shoring up their identity as one of the best experimental guitar bands making music today.
5 Bags of popcorn.