“Erasing Your Memory” As The Weapon — Preoccupations On Quarantine

Gabriela Syderas
Sep 2, 2020 · 8 min read
Image for post
Image for post

All-encompassing

Anxiety…

September, 2016. I am in the car with my father. I am on aux duty and choose to listen to the new Preoccupations self-titled record (the second they released, though their previous album was under their at one-time controversial name Viet-Cong). I had been listening to songs from this album on and off for a few weeks, with the opening track “Anxiety” being one of them. The 65 second ambient-synth intro throws my father for a loop. “When does this song begin?”

And it’s bleak

And incomplete

Every siren on repeat

Get the hell out of the street…

“Echolalia is the unsolicited repetition of vocalizations made by another person […] In its profound form, it is automatic and effortless.” I myself don’t present echolalia (I have an older great-aunt who engages in it, though). But as someone with other speech problems, and someone who has difficulty gathering thoughts orally, I feel like I’ve always been on the outskirts of it. And as a disorder, its connection to repetition interests me.

The band Preoccupations presents an “echolalia” in a few different ways in this record. They range in directness, going from the actual mention of the disorder in the song Monotony, the constant theme on the record of repeated behavior, the sonic use of post-punky echos and reverbs, even the repetition-intensive nature of the songwriting. I am interested, however, in a sort of “aesthetic echolalia” they represent.

Preoccupations (photographed by @poonehghana)

Corrupted will, odd ceremony

Sleepwalk us out of the Zodiac

Retake this form from the solemn days

Focusing on the task at hand…

Preoccupations does not run away from their genealogy. Listening to them, you get a bit of Echo and The Bunnymen, you get a bit of The Psychedelic Furs, you get a lot of The Cure (specifically in this record), and I’d wager (as writer Marc Masters does, in his review of the album for Pitchfork), even a bit of very early Swans. That in itself is not necessarily surprising, their first project after forming Viet-Cong contained a cover of Bauhaus’s classic Dark Entries. Frontman Matt Flegel’s previous band Women has been compared to everything, from The Beach Boys, to The Velvet Underground, to Deerhunter and Wavves.

We can sit around and argue how fair these comparisons are, or how much it says about the current state of rock music that it is doomed to repeat its perpetual glory days, or if anything like that even matters. I’d just like to point out the fact that, in a sense, I am pretty sure they know they stand on the shoulders of giants, but that does not mean it discredits the view from up there.

Erasing (Erasing)

Your memory (Your memory)

Erasing (Erasing)

Your memory (Your memory)

At the time of writing this, four years after That One Time I Listened To Post-Punk Revival On The Car With My Dad and 167 days after quarantine started, I have been returning more than ever to this record. The brittle guitars, cavernous atmosphere and intense hooks have been giving voice to this “Sense of urgency and unease, second guessing just about everything” that I’ve grappled with all my life, and it’s getting both worse and better during our collective exile.

Quarantine proved for me that I could, indeed, live out all my days with as little contact with the outside world as needed, but the constant reminder that I could not go out even if I wanted to has been very hard. In a way, a lifestyle that encourages routine as a form of mental rest could be reflected in an album about feeling trapped within repetition and wanting to fight it out, but ultimately succumbing to it.

We’re throwing caution to the wind

We are consistent in our flaws

Predictably, we have no goals

Incapable of abstract thoughts…

As a punk fan, one of my favorite aspects of the genre is its relationship to the concept of the “city”. Punk is born out of the urban centers. That can come about in various ways, both negative and positive in its various shades of expression (My mind immediately goes to the destruction of Pompeii in Siouxsie & The Banshees’ Cities In Dust and to Talking Heads’ anti-naturalist anthem Nothing But Flowers), but the town or the urbanity is almost inescapable from the music. Smog, grime and concrete are the bones on which punk gets to thrash around and yell, its vocal cords are boomboxes and megaphones.

Image for post
Image for post

So how do we progress with punk when urbanity is greatly diminished, when our communal centers are internet communities with which we focus ourselves to do our best to not lose a human touch? For me, that answer came about in the simple mantras of Preoccupations: “End Scene/Left here with no paraphernalia/Recede.” Erase your memory. This is your town now. These bright screens are your banners, these clicking noises from the keyboard are your car sounds, your own breathing is now the hustle and bustle of the big town.

We’re throwing caution to the wind

We are consistent in our flaws

Predictably, we have no goals

Incapable of abstract thoughts…

We are not incapable of said abstraction because of a lack of desire, nor of execution. If anything, being away from the concrete life of the town made me more and more aware of the amount of times I doze off, of my daydreams, of my necessity to de-corporealize. But that’s the thing: I need to always come back to my boring old room, to the rooms that are always in the exact same places, with my house that always smells the same, and not being able to let the flow of life connect me to people.

I can’t just say out loud what I was thinking to my college mates, my natent anxiety does not permit me to be this casual over texts. I also can’t hear their ramblings, their Preoccupations and their success stories. Time has become frozen, static, and much like a psychotropic experience that makes you realize just how much body you have, this house-arrest made me realize how truly trapped I feel once I’m not able to go out into the town, into my normal, organized-yet-chaotic life.

Send your light on the element again

You, trying to make sense out

Trying to make sense out

Trying to make sense out

Make sense out of it all…

It took me many avenues to get enough chaos back into my life for me to truly be happy. I went back to reading, not only the fiction that would help me escape, but the non-fiction theory work that I don’t quite understand entirely, that allows my head to just spin and dance around the words on the page (or rather, screen). My artistic output has gotten increasingly more out of my control and complex, with a rising interest in the use of AI and disorganized improvisation. And, as has always been my modus operandi for any situation, I’ve been listening to music. Lots and lots of different music, from the catchy and uplifting anti-capitalism of Jeff Rosenstock to the disorienting soundwork of Yves Tumor to the melancholic mallaise of Ecco2k and, yes, to the cavernous feedbacks of Preoccupations.

Everyone is floating by the graveside

Everyone is foreign when you’re in another world…

Caves with sharp, dripping icicles, with no expectancy to melt anytime soon. “The fear of the evil and mysterious city, which you built yourself and do not know (As Brazilian singer Jards Macalé puts it)”. Daydreams in which the sun isn’t anywhere visible. Water resistance in a cold river that pushes your arms down to the bottom of your body. A hall of mirrors which does not distort your face, because it only needs to show how many of you there are which are exactly the same, to get over your head.

“When you come home and notice everything you own has been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute.” All of these horrific thoughts and concepts, in the last few months, through the music of Preoccupations, have given me the tools and the resistance to rise as many days as I need to in these strange, strange times.

We are led into darkness and it’s alright

We are left in the darkness and it’s alright…

Memory is probably my favorite song in the record. It’s an 11 minute long opus that marks the midpoint of the album, and it goes through a few different moments. A dreary melancholic intro, a bouncy midpoint (sung by Dan Broeckner from Wolf Parade) and an extended, gorgeous ambient outro that lasts for almost half the song. It’s a jarring moment that catches you very off guard in the album so far, not only for its more hopeful uplifting instrumental, but for being one of the first songs to incorporate visceral, extreme structural changes (the song literally just speeds up after the intro, changes its sonic palette almost entirely, and then seals the deal with a literal different singer).

It then brings you back to the aura of repetition with that ambient outro, where changes are very slow and methodical (if existent at all). It is like sugar for the pill, and a short guarantee that yes, it is very much possible to find beauty inside of repetition, or in this case, find the difference within repetition. “When does the song begin?” Well, when does this one end?

You’re not scared, you’re not scared

Carry your fever away from here.

Image for post
Image for post

The final lines of the album, literally demanding to be distanced (heh) from some sort of diseased (heh) toxic emotional state or expectations. “I’m not here purely by the sake of breathing, I’m wide awake,” Matt says in “Anxiety”. “We’re running out of things to hurt/Never-ending ways to be absurd,” in the hook for “Stimulation”. “Cease and desist on the thing that you insist” is in the bridge for Zodiac. Truly, hidden within the cryptic, glacial feedback of the album, hides an intense drive to be let out from the claws of routine. And embracing your genealogy does not mean becoming prey to it. It means being ever more cognizant of its existence, which makes you all the more capable of fighting back.

In a way, the line in memory does not command you to erase said memory, it merely describes the action of “erasing your memory”. Escape the real world. Do so as much as you need. And while you’re away, you will be able to build the resistance to fight back.

Unholiness

Arrives by satellite on time

And I see no anomalies

Between both sides.

sun rose early

art, music, culture and hooliganism

Gabriela Syderas

Written by

History of the Arts Student at Rio De Janeiro State University, Essayist and sound artist. Sonic Fiction enthusiast, gender anarchist trans woman.

sun rose early

art, music, culture and hooliganism

Gabriela Syderas

Written by

History of the Arts Student at Rio De Janeiro State University, Essayist and sound artist. Sonic Fiction enthusiast, gender anarchist trans woman.

sun rose early

art, music, culture and hooliganism

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store