By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — One of the more celebrated modern bands to mine the dark, foreboding sounds of classic post-punk, Canadian outfit Preoccupations has established itself as a powerhouse act in the space of six short years. Rising from the ashes of star-crossed Calgary-based band Women (who had gone into a holding pattern after an onstage fight in 2010, two years before guitarist Christopher Reimer died suddenly in his sleep), bassist/singer Matt Flegel and drummer Mike Wallace formed a new quartet called Viet Cong with guitarists Scott Munro and Daniel Christiansen in 2012.
Nodding heavily to the brooding music of goth forebears Bauhaus (whose song “Dark Entries” they covered), Joy Division and the Cure, Viet Cong quickly attracted attention given the members’ pedigree. The following year, the group self released a cassette (appropriately entitled Cassette) that soon stirred interest in a number of independent labels with its terse, guitar-driven tracks tracks like “Throw It Away” and “Structureless Design.” A fiery set at South By Southwest in 2014 would lead to the group signing with Canadian label Flemish Eye and U.S. indie imprint Jagjaguwar.
In 2015, the band garnered still more acclaim with its self-titled debut and even got some airplay on college radio with the churning intensity of “Continental Drift.” However, the group also started getting some unwanted attention because of its name. Criticized for being culturally insensitive, the band made headlines when a promoter pulled the plug on a planned gig at Oberlin College in Ohio because of the name. Viet Cong posted on its Facebook page a few months later that it would in fact change it’s name to appease detractors. In April of this year, the group announced that it would switch its moniker to Preoccupations.
Issued in 2016, the outfit’s eponymous debut under the new name earned the quartet another round of overwhelmingly positive reviews. Drifting away from the angular guitar riffs that had marked their earlier work, Preoccupations delved deeper into pulsing synthesizer drone and Eno-esque ambient soundscapes, especially on the dreamy, epic 11-minute track “Memory” featuring guest vocals from Dan Boeckner, the leader fellow Canadian contemporaries Wolf Parade.
The group would spend a busy summer playing festivals and touring with cinematic instrumental rockers Explosions in the Sky before spending most of 2017 off the radar, writing and recording songs for their second effort as Preoccupations. Released on Jagjaguwar Records this past March, the aptly titled New Material continues the band’s embrace of chilly atmospheres and urgent, post-punk throb but features some of Flegel’s most accessible vocal melodies yet. The quartet returns to San Francisco’s Rickshaw Stop (the site of one of their earliest headlining shows in the Bay Area) on Monday night, sharing the stage with dreamy, LA-based dance/drone trio Moaning — who released their self-titled debut on Sub Pop Records a couple of months ago — and Oakland’s own experimental indie-rock crew Club Night.
Monday, May 14, 8 p.m. $15
The Rickshaw Stop