Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr Bands rarely get a chance to re-introduce themselves, and it’s likely that–were it up to the members of Preoccupations–this record wouldn’t have to serve as a reintroduction at all. Their debut album was astonishing in its firm grasp of post-punk, an expression of modern anxiety told brilliantly with older language. Of course, as great as that album was, it was also released under the unfortunate moniker of Viet Cong, a name that the group abandoned following a brief controversy last year. Thus, Preoccupations functions as sort of a new debut. However, fans of the band’s previous record will be happy to hear that the only thing that’s really changed is the name. On Viet Cong, Preoccupations seemed barely in control of their own actions. Their songs seemed emotionally improvised, guided by raw feelings that they were struggling to mold into something concrete. At times, it seemed like the band would fall apart under the weight of their own music. That shambling looseness isn’t present on Preoccupations, but the band is much better for the stylistic shift. In contrast to their debut, Preoccupations is focused, tightly managed and deliberately composed. It’s less abrasive, approaching something close to off-kilter pop on “Monotony,” but the intensity that served the band so well is very much present here. All the band has done is mastered it rather than let it dictate their songs. Otherwise, Preoccupations is very much what one would expect from this band. Drums pound and roll in odd patterns, reminiscent of the best work from Public Image Ltd. or early Gang of Four. Guitars are either tightly picked or come squealing out from the darkness. The band adds a few touches of synthesizer on “Anxiety” and “Zodiac,” among others, but for the most part, Preoccupations wisely stick to doing what they do best. Normally, this would indicate some sort of stagnation, but Preoccupations’ songwriting has never been sharper than it has been here. For all of its merits, their debut album seemed confused in terms of its lyrical focus, alternately lashing outwards and withdrawing inwards. In contrast, Preoccupations strikes a balance, taking the internal fears and anxieties they continue to grapple with and expanding upon them so that they’re forced into a context with the outside world. Bassist/vocalist Matt Flegel contends with the crushing realities of existence on “Zodiac” while acknowledging the futility of dwelling on such questions on “Degraded” (“Predictably we have no goals/ Incapable of abstract thought”). Musically, the band does well to evoke Flegel’s ideas and worries into something tangible, as on the booming threat of “Anxiety” or the bare-bones, insular creep that runs through “Forbidden,” one of the album’s shortest and most affecting tracks. Where Preoccupations truly show their growth, though, is on “Memory,” the 11-minute masterpiece that serves as the album’s centerpiece. When the band last tried this, it culminated with “Death,” a song that slowly pulled the band apart until seemingly nothing was left. “Memory,” though, is a far more complex piece of music that contends with different ideas in a more interesting way. The song begins with unease as Flegel describes the feeling of the ground falling out from under one’s feet as a favorite sensation. The song then breaks down into thumping bass and swirling guitars, only to pick up tempo and revive itself as a dance-pop tune with added layers of melancholy. It’s more affirming than despondent, unlike anything Preoccupations has ever done. Only after that does the song draw to a close over a dreamlike wave of feedback and guitar noise. The emptiness at the beginning remains, yet there’s a peaceful acceptance that comes with this ending. A casual listener could dismiss Preoccupations as simple pastiche, but that would be missing the point. The progression and consolidation displayed on this record is organic, a deliberate effort by its creators to challenge themselves and make the sounds of artists that came before them speak to something new. It goes beyond stylistic posturing, and given some of the emotional bloodletting that occurs on Preoccupations, it’s hard to accuse the band of using aloof post-punk cool as an affectation. Preoccupations is genre interpretation at its finest, and regardless of what name the band give themselves, the power of their music hasn’t diminished.