Canada’s Preoccupations are known for their frantic blend of influences that includes The Cure and Sonic Youth. However, on their latest album, Arrangements, the band expands on this sound with a mix of 80s goth punk and 90s noise rock sensibilities. The result is a competent return to form that splits the difference between the glossier synth-based production of their previous album New Material (2018), and the raw and uncontrolled energy of their debut as Viet Cong (2015). It is a unique sound that will be on full display as the band make their Romanian debut at Control Club on Wednesday, March 8, 2023.
Arrangements kicks off with the appropriately explosive Fix Bayonets! setting the tone for what is to come. Lead vocalist and bassist Matt Flegel’s lyrics paint a picture of a world on the brink of collapse, where society is crumbling, and chaos reigns supreme (sound familiar?). This sense of impending doom is present throughout, making for a profoundly unsettling listening experience. Still, its entirety creates a haunting atmosphere that perfectly matches the band’s labyrinthine post-punk sound, often with a wink and nod (“It’s alright, we can celebrate/The evaporating homo sapien race/That’s racing to erase its brief/And glorious existence”).
While the lyrical content may not be the most profound aspect of the album, Preoccupations more than make up for it with their instrumentation. In particular, Mike Wallace’s stellar drumming moves each song forward with a ferocity that borders on violent with a jagged edge reminiscent of Joy Division and Bauhaus. A perfect example would be the lashing snare rolls of its goth-pop lead single, Ricochet.
The guitar riffs and synth melodies present are also infectious. So much so they can bury themselves into your head without nary a notice. Preoccupations allow reverb and synth effects to create a misty wall of sound that perfectly complements the album’s brooding atmosphere. For example, Death of a Melody hovers into mechanically industrialized dystopias. The album’s closer, Tearing up the Grass, is also a steady march that trades in the panic and confusion of earlier tracks for something steady, clear, and multi-layered. It’s a fitting end to an intense listening experience that sees the band confronting their own mortality head-on.
But despite its bleak lyrical themes, Arrangements is not without its moments of beauty in (social) collapse. One of its standout tracks is Slowly, which sees the band exploring a more minimalistic approach with haunting piano chords and sparse instrumentation. The track slowly builds in intensity, with Flegel’s vocals reaching a fever pitch as its orchestration becomes more and more chaotic. It’s a stunning display of Preoccupations’ ability to create tension and release in cathartic bursts of energy. But this respite is short-lived as the epic-length Advisor and its own industrial soundscapes, smattered with darkwave awareness, burst outward with its own desolating synths.
Overall, Arrangements sees Preoccupations capturing their circuitous post-punk sound quite well. As a result, it’s an intense and emotional listening experience that is not for the faint of heart but one that will satisfy fans of the genre, and those existing on the current fringes of nihilism. A lot has happened over the three years from New Material (including a pandemic-forced remote recording of Arrangements). All of which equates to a world that has indeed caught up with the Preoccupations’ bleakness.