Preoccupations have notably matured as musicians with each name change and album. New Material sees the Canadian’s in a (slightly) more positive disposition, as they again create intense soundscapes intersected with stereotypical intricate rhythms.
If the deafening post-punk of Viet Cong and the penetrating darkness of Preoccupations set the scene, then New Material is the culmination of this, with a deeper emotional intensity now adding to the fully-formed instrumentation.
As with all previous releases, the four-piece self-recorded the album but this time worked with Justin Meldal-Johnsen (M83, Wolf Alice) who mixed and mastered the record. “My ultimate goal would be to make a record where nobody knows what instrument is playing ever,” says multi-instrumentalist Scott Munro, “and I think we’ve come closer than ever, here. It shouldn’t sound robotic — it should sound human, like people playing instruments. It’s just maybe no one knows what they are.”
It could be said that ‘Espionage’ somewhat lives up to Munro’s goals, kicking off proceedings with a clattering, rhythmic echo reminiscent of Joy Division’s ‘She’s Lost Control’ that gives way to a melody that belongs in the North-West of 1980s England.
‘Decompose’, meanwhile, opens with some rare vocal harmonies before entering into a spaced-out synthetic exploration, one that frontman Matthew Flegel calls a, “Blow yourself up and start again type of song, the very picture of creation and destruction. For better or worse, we are cursed in the ways that we tend to be.”
His vocals then roar with reverb in ‘Disarray’ in what is a glistening dance-like melody. This then gives way for ‘Manipulation’s delicate balance of droney, minimal propulsion and thunderous drum roll as Flegel cries: “Please don’t remember me like I’ll always remember you.” Album epicentre ‘Antidote’ then arrives and carries facets of every famous post-punk band without ever truly matching the quality of any of them. Nevertheless, it is still a compelling mix of atmospheric rhythms, gleaming synths and, as always, enthralling drumming delivery from Mike Wallace. Flegel’s bass guitar then takes centre stage for ‘Solace’ before the keyboard’s slow, industrial pattern fails to really go anywhere in ‘Doubt’.
The LP finishes with the band’s very first stand-alone instrumental ‘Compliance’. In a previous interview the four-piece explained that original versions of this composition were, “Built to death, re-examined and re-destroyed until they landed on just two chords — something simple, fundamental — and resolved to make meaning out of that, to show instead of tell,” with Flegel acknowledging it is more affecting to him than any other song on the record. The result is a defiant close to the record that leaves a multitude of potential avenues ready for the band to explore.
Preoccupations are one of the most interesting groups in music right now and whilst their genre doesn’t fit neatly into any of the ‘in vogue’ categories, the sheer quality of New Material makes them relevant again and shows a band in their absolute prime.