Preoccupations Are as Bleak as Ever — and the World Has Finally Caught Up on 'Arrangements'

BY Kyle KohnerPublished Sep 7, 2022

Since forming in 2012 under their now-disavowed Viet Cong moniker, Preoccupations have made each subsequent record under an increasingly heavy blanket of hopelessness, digging further into humanity's gnarled depths. This gradual, morose degradation has admittedly yielded some bleak results, culminating in 2019's somewhat flat and uninspired New Material. On new record Arrangements — their first in three years — Preoccupations have stuck to their abrasive greyness and futile topical vagueness to more invigorating results. 

Even though a thematic broad-strokes approach remains on Preoccupations' latest, Matt Flegel and company have painted a gloomy picture far more relevant and abundantly more relatable. Having always made art that befits a world on the precipice of total self-immolation, Arrangements sees Preoccupations make music for a time fit to embrace it. 

They haven't changed much to connect on a deeper level with listeners, remaining true to their vague, lyrical bleakness and sonically downtrodden ways. But this time around, they've pulled from the world's ever-present deterioration to bring some much-needed heft and urgency to the formula. Even if the society that Preoccupations bemoans has become even more void of empathy, the debasement serves the band well, as twisted as it might sound. Their music has taken on new, profound meaning, and listeners will likely feel more touched by the howling they've been doing all these years.

With new diseases popping up from beneath our melting ice caps every other month and the cost of living far exceeding that of which we are owed, it hits like a ton of bricks to hear Flegel sing on the driving "Ricochet," "Everything that I touch / Feels like the bitter end ... I can't hide." Even though the lyrics themselves aren't incredibly poetic or pointed, Flegel's words are for this precise moment in time. Similarly, when he groans on the elegiac "Slowly," "When you hate what you've become / And you'rе waiting for the day / But the day waits for no one," his sick-and-tired drawl captures a generation, embattled by futility and anxiety, with startling conciseness. Four years ago, a lyric of this spirit would come across damn near-insufferable. But in 2022, this sentiment ricochets through the speakers and into exhausted ears with a newfound immediacy, speaking to the impossible, universal fear of death and its unpredictability. 

Before Arrangements, Preoccupations were en route to completely stripping away what worked well for them — a nasty guitar-forward drive layered atop shoes-in-the-dryer drums — a combination that once made them one of the most captivating post-punk acts in North America. Thankfully, Arrangements finds Preoccupations remember that they're best as a noisy and mean grind machine. Though not necessarily the heaviest, Arrangements is Preoccupations' loudest offering yet, fully utilizing the brilliance of guitarists Scott Munro and Daniel Christiansen and the belligerence of Mike Wallace's drums. As Wallace thunders away for the first few seconds of "Death of Melody," try keeping your heart lodged inside your chest cavity — you'll need it once you find yourself marching uncontrollably toward a dead end, staring into a vast abyss. Inside this abyss, a snake pit of guitar squeals with measured intensity and a sinister tone — it's ready to consume you, and it can't be avoided.

Stoked by the flames of an ever-present hell, album opener "Fix Bayonets" pulses with a similar urgency and an ominous sense that something terrible looms above, below, and all around. The guitar work here is even more impressive, with Christiansen conjuring an impenetrable fog as Munro delivers a classically-melodious post-punk groove that maintains listeners' focus through the track's chaotic haze.

Clearly, reverting to basics and beginnings does wonders for Preoccupations. But of course, the band's most distinguishable asset and wrinkle remain — Flegel's voice doesn't provide hope nor operate as a guiding light, but his weary rasp does offer an unkempt sense of comfort. Grumbling about misgivings with an atonal croak might not be the most comforting way to connect with spent souls, but sometimes, misery needs company. As bleak as everything has been for the past few years, it's hard not to ache for some recognition of the void, and Flegel is that hopeless guide that doesn't really guide — he merely exists, and that's enough.

If there ever was a time for a Preoccupations record, it's now — finally, the band's hopeless candour has found a time and place to properly resonate. Their bleak outlook and disposition may still be actively magnifying, but whose isn't these days? The world is a mess, and, after a devastating pandemic and its continued ramifications, it's easier than ever to see what Preoccupations have been seeing for years.
(Flemish Eye Records)

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