Preoccupations - New Material [LTD ED Gray/Black Streaked Vinyl Record]
Preoccupations' songs have always worked through themes of creation, destruction, and futility, and they've always done it with singular post-punk grit. The textures are evocative and razor-sharp. The wire is always a live one. But while that darker side may have been well-explored, that's not quite the same as it being fully, intensely lived. This time it was, and the result is New Material, a collection that broadens and deepens Preoccupations to a true mastery of their sound. In it lies the difference between witnessing a car crash and crashing your own, between jumping into an ocean and starting to swallow the water.
"It's an ode to depression,' singer Matt Flegel says plainly. "To depression and self-sabotage, and looking inward at yourself with extreme hatred." Typically resilient, the months leading up to recording New Material brought a new order of magnitude to feelings that had been creeping up on Flegel for some time. New Material builds a world for that feeling, playing through its layers and complexities while hiding almost nothing. That inscrutable side is part of the magic, here, and a necessary counterweight to the straight-jab clarity of Flegel's lyrics. You can deep-dive the lyrics or zone into a riff; you can face it or you can get lost in it.
Opener "Espionage" kicks off with a clattering, rhythmic echo that gives way to sprinting percussion and a melody in the orbit of Manchester's classics. "Manipulation" explores the futility of going through the motions, balancing a droney, minimal march with a thunder roll that brings it to the brink, and to the doomed romantic declaration, "please don't remember me like I'll always remember you." "Dissaray" bursts up like a blackened confetti cannon, the song's undeniably bright melody dancing over a refrain of "disarray, disarray, disarray" and literally nothing else. The hunt turns into a search-and-destroy mission on "Decompose," a tense, speedy, "blow yourself up and start again" type of song.
If the through-line unifying Preoccupations' work is a furious, almost punishing cyclical quality, New Material does offer some relief. Closer "Compliance" may not seem revelatory on first listen, but it is deeply elemental, a crucial finale and the band's first standalone instrumental. Flegel acknowledges it is more affecting to him than any other song on the record. It's not redemption, more like a forced reprieve.