Preoccupations have always been a profoundly psychological band. More accurately, they tend to be predisposed to emotional fragility. This feeling seems to widen for them, but it’s easy to feel despondent these days. It feels appropriate, like the right thing to do, to view the world through dirty, bleak lenses. Parts of the world burn, integrity is undone, and immorality is exposed in institutions that we can only hope to trust. Such is the expression of Arrangements, the new record by Preoccupations, who have become very adept at making anxious music.
Based in Calgary, Preoccupations stand at the forefront of the new age post-punk movement of the last decade, delivering gloomy goth sounds reminiscent of bands like Joy Division, Bauhaus, and Siouxsie and the Banshees, complete with a starkly cynical outlook. Produced by bassist and vocalist Matthew Flegel and guitarist/synth player Scott Munro, with additional production by drummer Michael Wallace, Arrangements comes four years after their third album, 2018’s New Material. While maintaining their connection with Canadian label Flemish Eye, handling the new album’s release, the band has decided to self-release Arrangements across all other regions they reach.
“The lyrics are pretty conspicuous and self-explanatory on this one,” says Flegel. “But it’s basically about the world blowing up and no one giving a shit.” Flegel’s lyrics explore internal pressure and complications, often articulating a desire to push the world away because the world is an engine of distress. Like their previous records, Arrangements touches on the anxiety that comes from uncertainty and alienation, but unlike previous records, this one does not signify a search for ataraxis. There is no peace of mind in sight at the moment for Preoccupations.
The point of view of Flegel’s lyrics moves between macro and micro perspectives. On an intimate level, Flegel scrutinizes himself and his immediate circumstances. “Slowly”, with its vigorous guitar picking, quick-firing snare, and droning synth, examines feelings of self-hate and the need to escape unnecessary conversations. Perhaps more vulnerable conversations hold more value as he suggests on the propulsive closer, “Tearing Up The Grass”: “Let’s drink in artificial light, / and talk about our little lives.”
Personal examinations are nothing new to Flegel, but the lyrics become more interesting when he shifts to broader, bitter social criticisms. With its chiming guitars, meandering basslines, and ranting vocals”, the opener “Fix Bayonets!” is a biting indictment of humanity, as Flegel chants, “It’s alright, we can celebrate the evaporating / homo sapien race that’s racing to erase its brief / and glorious existence.” “Recalibrate” reflects the same vitriol over fast-paced synth, bass, and drum sounds reminiscent of 1980s sci-fi dystopia as Flegel sings, “You can’t help but believe that all this time we have failed with embarrassing ease.” This cutting tone permeates Arrangements and matches their foreboding apocalyptic krautrock progressions.
Despite the sardonic tone, both lyrically and musically, Preoccupations pick up the pace now and then, exercising their post-punk tendencies in a robust, exhilarating fashion. “Richochet” is the album’s most pop-structured song, boasting an apparent new wave influence and reverberating a muted, low-end guitar tone while Flegel repeats the phrase, “Everything tastes like the bitter end.” Meanwhile, Wallace’s dynamic drumming mixes a straightforward beat with tumultuous rolls, making their music feel tame yet anxious and cyclonic. “Death of Melody” is plunging yet playful and is darkly fantastic. They somehow create a sound that feels like a downward spiral while maintaining an adventurous nature.
Arrangements is directed by guitars like their first two albums. However, it’s less twangy and more chiming yet retains some synth sounds they explored on the other two, adding a cinematic texture to their guitar-driven progressions. Their songs are hypnotic and mesmerizing, gliding over vast instrumental soundscapes. The first half of “Advisor” calmly flows with synth and bass, then grows with lively vocals and complete instrumentation. Clocking in at over seven minutes, “Advisor” exemplifies the album’s name.
The seven songs that comprise Arrangements are not designed with the typical verse-chorus-verse structure. Instead, they’re more like vivid compositions assembled in movements. These are songs made of parts that evolve rather than recycle. As far as repetition goes, Flegel can be heard throughout the album repeating melancholic phrases as if he’s pacing in his home, distraught about the uncertain future.