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Preoccupations + METZ

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Preoccupations + METZ with FACS

Preoccupations

Preoccupations’ songs have always worked through themes of creation, destruction, and futility, and they’ve always done it with singular post-punk grit. The textures are evocative and razor-sharp. The wire is always a live one. But while that darker side may have been well-explored, that’s not quite the same as it being fully, intensely lived. This time it was, and the result is ’New Material’, a collection that broadens and deepens Preoccupations to a true mastery of their sound. In it lies the difference between witnessing a car crash and crashing your own, between jumping into an ocean and starting to swallow the water.

“It’s an ode to depression,’ singer Matt Flegel says plainly. “To depression and self-sabotage, and looking inward at yourself with extreme hatred.”   Typically resilient, the months leading up to recording ‘New Material’ brought a new order of magnitude to feelings that had been creeping up on Flegel for some time. He’d written bits and pieces of lyrics through the course of it, small snippets he hadn’t assigned to any one thought or feeling but were emblematic of a deeper issue, something germinating that was dense and numb and fully unshakeable.  As the band began writing music, that process gave shape to the sheer tonnage of what he’d been carrying.  With virtually nothing written or demoed before the band sat down together, the process was more collaborative than before.  It was almost architectural, building some things up, tearing others down to the beams, sitting down and writing songs not knowing what they were about. But for Flegel, it led to a reckoning.  “Finishing ‘Espionage’ was when I realized,” says Flegel. “I looked at the rest of the lyrics and realized the magnitude of what was wrong.”

‘New Material’ builds a world for that feeling, playing through its layers and complexities while hiding almost nothing. That inscrutable side is part of the magic, here, and a necessary counterweight to the straight-jab clarity of Flegel’s lyrics. You can deep-dive the lyrics or zone into a riff; you can face it or you can get lost in it.  “My ultimate goal would be to make a record where nobody knows what instrument is playing ever,” says multi-instrumentalist Scott Munro, “and I think we’ve come closer than ever, here. It shouldn’t sound robotic — it should sound human, like people playing instruments. It’s just maybe no one knows what they are.”

Opener “Espionage” lives up to Munro’s goals, kicking off with a clattering, rhythmic echo that gives way to sprinting percussion and a melody in the orbit of Manchester’s classics. “Manipulation” explores the futility of going through the motions, balancing a droney, minimal march with a thunder roll that brings it to the brink, and to the doomed romantic declaration, “please don’t remember me like I’ll always remember you.” “Disarray” bursts up like a blackened confetti cannon, the song’s undeniably bright melody dancing over a refrain of “disarray, disarray, disarray” and literally nothing else.  “A lot of this is about futility,” he says, “trying to find something where there’s nothing to be found.” That hunt turns into a search-and-destroy mission on “Decompose”, a tense, speedy, “blow yourself up and start again” type of song, the very picture of creation and destruction, as Flegel writes “for better or worse, we are cursed in the ways that we tend to be.”  And while calling an album ’New Material’ might seem like a smartass move, the truth is it’s as matter-of-fact a title as Espionage, Disarray, or anything else on the record.  Why fight that?

If the through-line unifying Preoccupations’ work is a furious, almost punishing cyclical quality, ‘New Material’ does offer some relief.  “This is somehow the most uptempo thing we’ve ever done,” observes Flegel. That propulsive, itchy quality rescues ‘New Material’ from the proverbial bottom of the pit. To write these songs is to force oneself to reignite, to play them is to stand up and reengage. Closer “Compliance” may not seem revelatory on first listen, but it is deeply elemental, a crucial finale and the band’s first standalone instrumental. Original versions were built to death, reexamined and re-destroyed until they landed on just two chords — something simple, fundamental — and resolved to make meaning out of that, to show instead of tell. Flegel acknowledges it is more affecting to him than any other song on the record. It’s not redemption, more like a forced reprieve.

METZ

“Change is inevitable if you’re lucky,” says guitarist/vocalist Alex Edkins while talking about Atlas Vending, the fourth full-length album by Toronto’s METZ. “Our goal is to remain in flux, to grow in a natural and gradual way. We’ve always been wary to not overthink or intellectualize the music we love but also not satisfied until we’ve accomplished something that pushes us forward.” The music made by Edkins and his compatriots Hayden Menzies (drums) and Chris Slorach (bass) has always been a little difficult to pin down. Their earliest recordings contained nods to the teeming energy of early ‘90s DIY hardcore, the aggravated angularities of This Heat, and the noisy riffing of AmRep’s quintessential guitar manglers, but there was never a moment where METZ sounded like they were paying tribute to the heroes of their youth. If anything, the sonic trajectory of their albums captured the journey of a band shedding influences and digging deeper into their fundamental core—steady propulsive drums, chest-thumping bass lines, bloody-fingered guitar riffs, the howling angst of our fading innocence. With Atlas Vending, METZ not only continues to push their music into new territories of dynamics, crooked melodies, and sweat-drenched rhythms, they explore the theme of growing up and maturing within a format typically suspended in youth.

Covering seemingly disparate themes such as paternity, crushing social anxiety, addiction, isolation, media-induced paranoia, and the restless urge to leave everything behind, each of Atlas Vending’s ten songs offer a snapshot of today’s modern condition and together form a musical and narrative whole. Album opener “Pulse” is a completely unnerving exercise in reductionist tension, with verses providing little more than a lone discordant chord, a hammering kick drum, and the occasional punctuation of a diving bass note. From there METZ launches into “Blind Youth Industrial Park,” an absolute scorcher of paranoid dissonance and malicious force centered on a chromatic descending riff and a merciless four-to-the-floor drum battery.

The album hits its stride with “No Ceiling”—a minute-and-a-half rager that comes about as close to containing a pop hook as anything METZ has ever written. Though it’s still saturated with in-the-red distortion, this truncated anthem about discovering love and purpose provides the rare counterpoint to the band’s grievous compositions. But there’s no yielding to complacency on Atlas Vending, and the mercurial nature of love and romance is expertly captured in the alternately brutal verses and beguiling choruses of “Hail Taxi.” If METZ’s current mission is to mirror the inevitable struggles of adulthood, they’ve successfully managed to tap into the conflicted relationship between rebellion and revelry with the song’s tactics of offsetting their signature bombast with anthemic melodic resolutions.

The song sequencing follows a cradle-to-grave trajectory, spanning from primitive origins through increasingly nuanced and turbulent peaks and valleys all the way to the climactic closer, “A Boat to Drown In.” The lyrics speak to this arc as well, with the songs addressing life’s struggles all the way through to death, as Edkins snarls “crashed through the pearly gates and opened up my eyes, I can see it now” before the band launches into the album’s cascading outro. 

While past METZ albums thrived on an abrasive relentlessness, the trio embarked on Atlas Vending with the goal to make a more patient and honest record—something that invited repeated listens rather than a few exhilarating bludgeonings. It’s as if the band realized they were in it for the long haul, and their music could serve as a constant as they navigated life’s trials and tribulations. The result is a record that sounds massive, articulate, and earnest. Bolstered by the co-production of Ben Greenberg (Uniform) and the engineering and mixing skills of Seth Manchester (Daughters, Lingua Ignota, The Body) at Machines with Magnets in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, METZ deliver the most dynamic, dimensional, and compelling work of their career. 

FACS

FACS use minimalism and space to create abstract, modern art rock.

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