2016 has been a shitty fucking year for America. It can’t get over soon enough.
Daily life in some communities is an every day struggle just to live, forget about pursuing happiness. Our heroes are dying and not being replaced. Our politics is a clown show, and the media that covers it is ecstatic at the chaos. People don’t know where to turn, and everyone on all sides is pissed off to the point that respectful dialogue is almost totally impossible.
It feels like we spend every day toggling back-and-forth between counter-levering forces of hopeless despair at the realities of our present moment and stargazing wonder at the limitless possibilities of a more hopeful future that should be kicking in any day now. And yet, with each passing day, given the facts on the ground, that hopeful future seems a cruel joke, a bad bet, a mistaken assumption made while high and not paying attention.
There are parts of the world that are far worse off than us, of course, but pointing to them from our perch as the supposed greatest nation that ever existed sets the bar pretty damn low. There’s a hole in our soul, a big one, and too many of us are too busy pointing it out to help those good few actually trying to fill it. Some people won’t even discuss the hole itself: they’d rather bitch about something else the hole reminds them of, and how that thing they’d rather talk about is the real problem, though why remains unclear.
Not my America. Not how I was raised.
Except it is all of our America, and it is on fire. And the saddest part is that almost none of the arguments coming from those who shout the loudest have anything to do with the present we’re creating from one day to the next, nor the future we’re all going to share, one way or the other, whenever it arrives.
Instead, it’s all about the past. It’s all about our memories.
Preoccupations used to be called Viet Cong. If you don’t know the story of their name change, the arc of it pretty much follows what you’d expect from a talented band who (somewhat accidentally) named itself after a violent terrorist group that murdered and displaced thousands of innocent people not all that long ago. Hopefully for Preoccupations, their earlier name will one day be a footnote in a much longer story of a multi-decade career spent blowing minds and rocking bodies throughout the wider world.
Since that story’s been told, let’s talk about Preoccupations’ music, most notably “Memory,” the high point of the band’s new eponymous (with the new name) record. It is ambitious, it is righteous, and it is the perfect song for America in the year of our exhausted, blood-spattered, deuces-throwing, no-fucks-left Lord, 2016.
The structure of the song mimics how people deal with memories. It starts with an angry pang of recognition that gives way to a lovely bit of lamentation that accelerates into an ecstatic bit of celebration that dissolves into a empty, despairing squall: it is four minutes of diagnosis, two and a half minutes of propulsive joy, and then four and a half minutes of almost medieval feedback drone.
Preoccupation’s “Memory” is a sonic portrait of the journey we take from one end of a devastating reverie to the other.
When a person settles into a memory, they hold onto the remembered scene just long enough to enjoy a sweet, nostalgic feeling before it evaporates on acknowledgement that the past is gone, and the future uncertain. The crushing nerves and anxiety of that final realization come through loud and clear in the noise (and it is utter noise, balanced and insane) that constitutes the song’s ending coda. With obliterating emptiness wrapping up earlier inspiration unto joy, “Memory” reminds us that remembering something is knowing that it won’t ever happen again, though something else will, and most definitely not THAT.
And the problem isn’t any given memory itself; the problem is the future it makes fearsome and obscures. Our problem in America today isn’t necessarily our shared past so much as the charting of our shared future. There are issues we are dealing with today that take root in truly abominable aspects of our history, ones for which atonement is absolutely warranted. But who atones? When and how? And who sets the terms for this next phase? With what authority? What battles remain to be fought? And who will do the fighting?
Preoccupations councils us in “Memory” that, if left unchecked, our memories will destroy us.
So many questions abound, and no one—not an irresponsible, profit-driven media; not your grandparents; not our President Elect; not the guy down at city hall with the homemade sign; not some loudmouthed racist hiding behind his Twitter handle; not me; not you; not anybody—has any idea what’s coming next. The one thing we can all agree on, though, is it wasn’t always like this. We remember something different, don’t we? Something better? Or was that a lie, too?
According to Genius, Preoccupations lead singer Matt Flegel has said that “Memory” is about watching someone lose their mind. Flegel is Canadian.