Arrangements, the upcoming fourth record from Preoccupations, begins with the pounding metallic slash of guitar strings of “Fix Bayonets!” It’s harsh and desolate at first, but builds into a thrilling synth sprint. The track —from its call-to-arms title and tense first guitar phrases to its whirlwind evolution— sets the stage for what is to come: a Preoccupations record that weaves their guitar-heavy origins with their newer synth-based work. The result is Arrangements, a record that is at once the band’s most intense, engaging, and playful work yet.
Work on Arrangements began in the fall of 2019, when vocalist and bassist Matt Flegel and guitarist Danny Christiansen met up with Munro at his Studio St. Zo in Montreal. The three wrote the record’s material and recorded all of the bed tracks, then drummer Mike Wallace joined and laid down his parts. All told, drums, guitars, and bass were completed during the sessions at Studio St. Zo. The band planned to reconvene in a couple of months and decide what else the songs needed.
When COVID hit, those plans were halted. Munro was in Calgary on tour with his partner when shutdowns began, so he ended up staying in the city with his parents for the next 16 months. He whipped up a make-shift studio in their house, and the record was finished remotely via Munro and Flegel sending tracks back and forth. All of Munro’s vocals and keyboard parts were completed in this new set up, while Flegel’s vocals were done in New York. Graham Walsh (Holy Fuck) mixed the record, and Mikey Young (Total Control) mastered it.
The isolation in part encouraged the band to reconnect with elements of their earlier releases. Munro, holed up in Calgary with endless weed gummies, “obsessively” doubled keyboards on guitars and vice versa, sampled the recordings using an old Ensoniq keyboard sampler, and made new parts out of the samples. While Munro was committed to making keyboards the centerpiece of the band’s 2016 and 2018 releases, this time, guitar returned to the spotlight — an instrument he describes as more fun and visceral to play. Christiansen’s guitar is in a unique tuning for almost the entire record, blurring and smearing the tracks while Munro’s standard-tuning riffs provide melody and clarity.
The album’s title —like that of their 2018 LP New Material— is literal and cheeky, a sharp contrast to the band’s sonic aesthetic. Having finished it entirely on their own, the band has decided to self-release the record outside of Canada. Long-time co-conspirators Flemish Eye will handle the record’s Canadian release.
Thematically speaking, Arrangements is dark and direct: “The lyrics are pretty conspicuous and self explanatory on this one, but it’s basically about the world blowing up and no one giving a shit,” says Flegel.
Lead single “Ricochet” follows “Fix Bayonets!” with a gothic dark pop churn and Flegel’s mournful cries: “Everything tastes like the bitter end,” he calls, and Wallace carries the track out on lashing snare rolls. “Death Of Melody” recalls the martial, machine-like rhythms of the band’s 2015 full-length, switching into Bowie-meets-shoegaze territory before long.
“Slowly” leans further into these atmospherics, ditching its macabre prog-pop beginnings for a swirling, galactic outro, while “Advisor,” at nearly eight minutes, reverses this form, taking time to grow a universe of sounds before bursting into a blasted-out synth closing act.
Closer “Tearing Up The Grass” is a galvanizing six-minute swan song, a shimmering, mostly major-key shroom trip of a post-rock song. It’s bursting with energy and clarity, even through dozens of layers of voices, guitars, synths, bass, and drums: they align in that way that only Preoccupations can make them, creating something that feels prehistoric and unsettling and marvelous and true.
With Arrangements, Preoccupations finally and confidently inhabit the dystopia that they have been carefully creating from their musical genesis. In a room with taped up windows, with only a tiny pinprick of light beaming from the otherworld onto the far wall — upside down and blurred, yet recognizable enough to fill you with warm familiarity and nostalgia of unknown origins.