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