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Album Reviews

Preoccupations - Preoccupations

Caden Marchese

It’s been many months since Viet Cong announced they were changing their name for the sake of overly sensitive people. Hailing from Calgary in the north, Viet Cong was born from the ashes of now-defunct rock band Women, combining their dissonance and low fidelity with pop hooks, tight riffs and beautifully odd time signatures. Since dissolving the Viet Cong name, the four Canadians have decided to call themselves “Preoccupations,” a name so uninspiring and unassuming that you can only guess the band has gotten more keen to wider audiences. “Sick!” I exclaimed in late July as an accomplice of mine and former 1190 employee emailed me the leaked files of Preoccupations’ new self titled record, and since then the music on the album has been been a hot and polarizing topic for fans of Viet Cong’s fantastic 2015 debut. Ladies and gentlemen, Preoccupations.

The first track on the album is a dark crooner that makes for a generally underwhelming introduction, begging for a climax that never comes. “Is this Psychedelic Furs?” He asked. “No dad,” I said, “it’s the new Viet Cong.” Here, synthesizers are introduced as a significant lead on the new record, surprising me immediately. The first real rise we see is with the second and third tracks, both of which combine new wave grooves and guitar tones with dominant vocals and just enough jaggedness to remind you of the old Women records, except the vocals are loud! And they’re really low and gravely! Never before has Matt Flegel’s voice been this foregrounded and theatrical as he easily grabs well-placed words and generally outdoes himself with deep vocal stabs that are probably going to be difficult for him to sing live. The oddly placed centerpiece of the record comes with “Memory,” a dark and sparse track that clocks in at 11 minutes, complete with 4 minutes of outro noise. While the long tracks on Viet Cong’s self-titled had purpose and drive, this long track feels long for the sake of filling up time, even though the song attached to the noise section is very good. 

After the album’s middle journey to space, or the middle of the ocean, or off to sleep, we’re launched into a post-y track that elevates the mood back up to where we’ll end on. Make sure you don’t forget about the early 80s synth sounds and melodies, hearkening back to New Order’s ballads (yeah), which drop down into a mellow track once again before picking up the groove Andy Summers style with “Stimulation,” finally ending on the melodramatic death march that is “Fever.” That’s a short record, I thought to myself, I wonder what everyone will think of it! At least a few fans of previous efforts Viet Cong and Women are disappointed. “Where’s the banger Bunker Buster track??” They ask, angered. “What about the math-y crumbly distorted mess that was March of Progress?” Now, now. “Where’s the 11-minute progressive rock Death suite that makes me feel like punching hard surfaces at the end?” They might not find all of that here. Because it is a different band now, with a different name. But they should give the record a second chance or two. Because it is a good record.

by Caden Marchese

Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool

Caden Marchese

by Brian Kearney

Radiohead album releases are always an enigma in themselves. In the past they have allowed fans to pay whatever price they like, have created strange companies before release dates, and with their ninth release, A Moon Shaped Pool, they took a retroactive approach by erasing their internet presence and resorting to the mail. After removing themselves from social media and dissolving their website into a blank, white page they mailed strange letters to fans in the UK, saying "Burn the witch, we know where you live."

Yet even the biggest band in the world is not bigger than the Internet.  When videos for Burn the Witch and Daydreaming were released, the Internet was buzzing with feeds and links leading to these wonderful works despite the bands efforts of Internet anonymity. Fans of the band know that any video they make is an extension or addition to the feel of the album. They tend to mimic the anxiety and tension of the songs while delivering a visual component or representation through a specific character that allow new insight into the bands psyche, that or they're just messing with us. 

A Moon Shaped Pool feels like the most complete album Radiohead has done since Kid A.  Each song starts off simple and progresses into lush, orchestral soundscapes that manage to soothe or twitch depending on where they decide to take you. Johnny Greenwood's composer chops are at full effect on this album, as they enlisted the London Contemporary Orchestra and Choir to help provide the necessary flourishes and string accompaniment that really take this album to stratospheric levels.  One can only hope that they will be touring with the orchestra!

A bass player friend of mine once said, "Radiohead is one of the funkiest bands there is,"  (see the end of Optimistic on Kid A for a prime example of this). There are several moments in this album where drummer Phil Selway and bassist Colin Greenwood get into the pocket and really do find the funk.  There is even a guitar solo at the end of Identikit (!), coming from a musician (Johnny Greenwood) that has transcended traditional guitar concepts a long time ago. 

Which brings us to Thom Yorke, who is as good, crisp, and paranoid as ever.  Having left his partner of 23 years, it is interesting to find a studio version of True Love Waits to close the album out, with Yorke repeatedly chanting "don't leave" until a piano note fades to nothing. It is a striking finish that leaves the listener sad, yet comfortable and at peace because the album is so beautiful and complete from start to finish.  It is both simple and complex, disarming and inviting, large and small. It is Radiohead, and they know where you live.