Over their first three records Preoccupations have traced some of the finer post punk efforts of the 2010’s, meshing noise experiments and long-winded grooves with some wickedly dark songcraft. Their latest New Material sees them dropping some weight (read: song length) to focus on that latter point – over a lean thirty-six minutes the band drops banger after banger in what sounds like a greatest hits compilation of 80s post punk from a band you’ve never heard of.
In the past Preoccupations may have used white noise or exploratory keyboard lines to carry you on a long industrial journey. No longer, as opening track Espionage lays bare their new approach – a weeping synth line builds over a reverbed drum track, joined by guitar stabs and a bass track that sounds like a creature from the depths. But no extra length is spared; it’s onto the hook as frontman Matt Flegel’s foreboding verses criss-cross with the insanely catchy call-and-response chorus. Before you know it we’re done and Decompose kicks off, as soaring harmonies worthy of a Nuggets compilation track build over a propulsive rhythm, resting on a repeated loop of a what sounds like a plucked harp. Disarray follows next, a wistful number with yearning echoed vocals over glimmering guitar arpeggios. Flegel’s intonation and the lead vocal hook is a massive earworm. This is a song that, under a different guise, could have been an 80s hit single.
Manipulation slows the tempo over some more vocals that can’t help but grab your attention even if you don’t care what’s being said. The track has the potential to bore, but at only three minutes it’s out before it has a chance. It the same with fellow ballad Doubt, a slower atmospheric number that delivers its unforgettable mantra over a foreboding jackhammer drumbeat. And special mention must go to Antidote which skilfully builds up to its ingenious chorus. This really sounds like a long lost post punk classic – excellent songwriting.
In switching to a digestible approach, Preoccupations inevitably lose something of their previous, more experimental sound. The sense of danger and menace has gone, replaced by raw energy and smoother pop songcraft. Nothing here is as jarring and disturbing as their classic 2015 single Continental Shelf, for instance. And their vocal pop hooks are bleedingly obvious at times – tracks like Disarray recall Interpol or even Placebo in the way that they overtly tug at your angst-ridden heart-strings. Solace just sounds like a straight-up Placebo outtake with more angular guitars, and the slower numbers get by with relatively little actual musical ideas. The instrumentation is also not particularly notable compared to previous records, with similar textures throughout, and closing instrumental Compliance not offering much new.
Yet it largely doesn’t matter – Preoccupations have pared down their sound just enough to create an excellently crafted pop record. If you are a post punk fan, you will wear out this mini-classic.