Published Apr 02, 2018You shouldn't judge a song by its title unless you're listening to Preoccupations. Choose any one-word synonym for alienation and you'll likely find it on the tracklist for the quartet's 2016 self-titled effort. That convention is more applicable than ever on their third full-length. New Material is dreary and blunt to the point where old tracks like "Monotony" and "Degraded" sound chipper by comparison.
Granted, the four guys from Calgary who changed their really bad band name were always more likely to inspire despair or anger than joy. For the first time, though, their gloominess robs from their appeal rather than enriching it. Preoccupations still have plenty of momentum on New Material, but it's not always applied in the right directions.
Too often, the band is content to simulate post-punk's greatest hits. "Disarray" lifts the Cure's dreamy guitar lines, while the isolated beats and cavernous atmosphere of "Espionage" and "Doubt" echo Martin Hannett's production on Joy Division's Closer. Only the shoegaze instrumental "Compliance" hints at the inventiveness of the band's debut.
These retro touches offer their own pleasures, but New Material lacks a guiding ethos to animate its borrowed sounds. Where Robert Smith's hopeless romanticism and Ian Curtis's resigned fatalism lent defined perspectives to their respective bands, Preoccupations frontman Matt Flegel wallows in a free-floating feeling of unease. New Material's subjects are too broad for incisive commentary, and its themes of disenfranchisement and helplessness are played too straight for dark comedy. Ultimately, it's about as expressive as those one-word titles would suggest. (Flemish Eye)