Preoccupations find themselves in the unique position of releasing their second self-titled album in a row. Their previous effort, the heavier and catchier ‘Viet Kong’, has had to be abandoned due to complaints from American campuses of appropriation or some such nonsense. Preoccupations, formerly Viet Kong, formerly the remnants of Women, must find Miles Davis’ famous quote hilarious: “Man, sometimes it takes a long time to sound like yourself”. If eponymous album titles are the definition of playing like ‘yourself’, then Preoccupations must feel like they have split personality disorder!
Thankfully, after the storm in the teacup subsided we were left with an excellent record. While 2015’s ‘Viet Kong’ rang loud and clangerific (a real word), ‘Preoccupations’ is comparatively nuanced and mature. Ultimately the change in tone and scope has produced a far superior album.
The inevitable comparisons will be New Order and their eighties ilk, and it is justified. Don’t make the mistake however of assuming this is another pastiche throwback record devoid of its own ideas and personality.
‘Preoccupations’ has a number of quirks that arguably should not work. Track times that range from eleven minutes to one and certain songs that bleed in together before others jarringly switch the pace exemplify this. While on paper that may seem awful, it all produces a brilliant sound in reality. At just under forty minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Listening to the album on a loop produces an ouroboros effect where it feels almost intentionally designed to be experienced as such.
Lyrically ‘Preoccupations’ jumps from allusions to Kafka to enigmatic jargon that wouldn’t be out of place in a particularly prolific first year Philosophy Student’s poetry book. “You’ll be made relevant by suicide machines” we’re told on ‘Forbidden’. The vague dread that permeates the industrial synthetic reverberations of ‘Preoccupations’ find life in lyrics like these that punctuate more loudly when the music quietens for a moment to give it all the greater effect.
Songs like ‘Anxiety’, ‘Monotony’ and ‘Degraded’ want you to feel like something bad has happened but you’re not sure what exactly that is. Likely the Germans have a word for vague foreboding - ‘Dasscaredycatfreude’ or something. Tonally it doesn’t feel bleak like the lonely streets of ‘Kid A’ but rather it feels like whatever is wrong could be a grand joke.
In a great year for albums, ‘Preoccupations’ has had to pull some rabbits out of hats to turn as many heads as it has. A lesser band would be called out for gimmick song writing were they to attempt what succeeds so well here. An excellent album I’d just about recommend to anyone.