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Preoccupations embraces a new direction in post-punk 

By Sheroog Kubur, October 11 2022

Straddling the line between new wave and post-punk is a band that is constantly reinventing themselves — from name changes to experimental sounds, they’ve done it all. They quickly found a name that has become a staple to Canadian post-punk, Preoccupations. The Calgary-quartet has recently released their newest album, Arrangements, and has been treating North America and Europe to hearing it live. The band will be in Calgary on Oct. 26 at the Commonwealth Bar & Stage, and giving this record a listen ahead of this show is a must.  

Arrangements is a story we’ve heard before — a project that had to come to a screeching halt when the world closed its doors for two years. The record retains the grit of a classic Preoccupations record with apocalyptic imagery and defeatist instrumentation, but there’s a tinge of reality to it. The artistic and moody lyrics become brush strokes to a painting we’ve all become familiar with. 

The album was started just before the pandemic hit and finished in its height. Funnily enough, the record was created with the intention of being heard live, a deviation from other Preoccupations releases in the past. 

“The record before this one was more of a studio record — a lot of loops and sequencers and synthesizers and like, ‘let’s record 29 guitar parts,’’’ said vocalist Matt Flegel. “This time around it was a little bit more concise.”

It’s not hard to pick up on this change. This record is cleaner in many ways, sounding more rustic than their 2018 release, New Material. Each element feels complete, adding depth to an album that’s already consistently trying to out-do themselves. The guitars are cool and collected against the frantic synthesizers underneath dismal vocals, painting a picture of something bigger than we could ever imagine. Going through the record is like descending into the world of Preoccupations, one that’s equal parts addictive and terrifying. 

The remnants of the pandemic can be felt through this record. The album was finished remotely with members scattered across the east coast, each with their own makeshift at-home studio. Flegel recounts turning his Brooklyn basement into a space where the vocals could be completed, and Scott Munro turning his Calgary home into a recording space. This detail makes the record all the more impressive, with the production bringing each individual component into a grandiose conclusion. 

Photo by Katie Nelson

The record dances along by describing reality over potential dystopias, scarily reflecting the world that produced the record. It feels like everything has come to life with lines like “They’re selling t-shirts at this crucifixion,” and “Let’s drink up artificial life and talk about our little lives” to remind us of the bitter extremes revealed over the last two years. 

“Finishing the vocals in the windowless basement during a pandemic — in the past I sing about apocalyptic landscapes, and it’s like ‘Oh, all this stuff I’ve been singing about is real,’” said Flegel. 

Despite the songs coming to life, the record doesn’t feign authenticity by trying to incorporate messages of hope or comfort. Each song is evocative of emotions that we may have been trying to hide or push down, bringing to the forefront uncomfortable feelings. This doesn’t make the music sound bleak though — the fullness and depth of the production brings the lyrics out from the underground. This record doesn’t make sense, which is what makes it perfect for Preoccupations. 

The band has clearly grown from their last record, in a way that no one could have expected. It’s grimy and volatile but still sounds intentional. Perhaps it was the DIY nature that made this record sound more like a garage band, but nonetheless Arrangements shows that being trapped at home doesn’t mean sacrificing a polished sound. 

Sheroog’s Recommendation: “Death of Melody” as a soundtrack to moody nights and “Fix Bayonets!” for the best opening song of all time.

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