Tag Archives: Viet Cong

Recapping Hopscotch17 Day Two

As you all probably know, I’m spending the weekend at the eighth annual Hopscotch Music Festival. You can catch up on my adventures from Thursday here. Friday was a little busier. It was a long day filled with some pleasant surprises, some mild disappointment, and just a lot of fun.

I wasn’t in a real hurry to get down to the day party stuff, so I kind of relaxed a little bit at the hotel, and that was probably a great idea. Again, because of my lax approach to prep this year, I didn’t really know what was going on during the day parties other than that I would eventually end up at Kings. At about 1:30, I made it downtown, grabbed some lunch, and just sort of walked around a bit.

I finally started into the action by going up to Kings. Chuck Johnson was there playing his new ambient stuff.
I don’t know anything about that guy, but he’s been a prolific experimental composer with many albums to his credit. His new album Balsams, which is layered and looped pedal steel guitar, has been getting great reviews, and there was a bit of buzz about this performance. It was beautiful and relaxing, but I wasn’t ready to be put to sleep.

I went downstairs and outside to regroup, but I really had no plan at all. I found out they were doing comedy downstairs at Neptunes, so I went down there for a bit. Although it was structured, it was very much open mic-style. All local guys with very little experience doing short sets. I stayed down there for three comedians. One was really awful, one was decent, and one was really good.


I headed back upstairs to Kings just before the start of a set by Mac McCaughan out of Superchunk and Kurt Wagner out of Lambchop. They’ve got a new project called Repressed, and I had absolutely no idea what to expect. And I couldn’t have dreamed up what I saw. I don’t even know how to categorize it. Mac was operating some electronic bits and Kurt was singing. There was vocoder and/or other heavy vocal effects, and it was a bit weird if I’m honest. There were also two girls on clean backing vocals. After a few songs, I left, feeling confused and out of sorts by what I’d just seen. It was time to head into City Plaza for the night’s main stage event.

Birds of Avalon

Local psych rockers Birds of Avalon started things off. I didn’t know anything about them, and although I’d heard their name before, I didn’t really know what to expect. I really liked them though. They were exceptionally loud, and they had really good energy. They use two drummers on full kits. That kind of thing always interests me. I thought I might do that thing where I only watch for a couple of songs, but I got really into it.

The Make Up

The Make Up was next. They’ve been around for a long time. Ian Svenonius, James Canty and Steve Gamboa emerged from the ashes of DC punk band Nation of Ulysses to form The Make Up. The Make Up were active in the late 1990s before disbanding and reforming twice. I thought I had seen them once in 1998 or so, but now I’m beginning to question my memory. Their rock/punk/gospel/surf rock style is certainly unique, but when they disbanded, Svenonius said it was because everyone was co-opting their style. That style includes wearing matching outfits.
Last night, they all wore sparkly champagne-coloured suits. That style also includes Svenonius’ erratic behaviour. He rants and raves and generally acts like a person who is either on drugs or is suffering from mental illness. I’m convinced, though, that although he has some extreme views, he’s just playing a character. Either way, they had a ton of energy, and Svenonius interacts with the crowd a lot and has this incredible bravado on stage. It’s something to behold. I really liked their set, and even more than that, I was impressed by the experience.

Future Islands

Future Islands was next. I saw them a couple of years ago at Hopscotch, and while I appreciate their stage presence, and while I appreciate the fact that they love playing in North Carolina, they just don’t do much for me. I watched for a few songs, then headed out to the club shows.

Aunt Sis

I headed over to Neptunes to catch the Asheville four-piece Aunt Sis. I didn’t really know much about them other than the songs that I listened to in the name of “hopscotch research”. I really liked their set. They had a bit of a sad bastard vibe mixed with a bit of noise. They really had the quiet/loud/quiet thing working. I was reminded a lot of Red House Painters. They may or may not be named after a boutique salsa company in Western North Carolina.

Next, I walked over to Pour House to see King Woman. The band is fronted by Kristina Esfandiari, who used to be in the San Francisco shoegaze band Whirr and the doomgaze band Miserable. King Woman is something totally different, and it’s definitely closer to the doomgaze stuff she’s done in the past. This is loud, sludgy, dark, and a bit aggressive. I was at the side of the room where the double-tiered benches are, sitting on the top. Some dude came along, sat practically on my feet, and immediately fell asleep, sort of using my legs as a pillow. It was super weird, and I hopped up and got out of that spot. I don’t know how he managed to sleep with the intense noise, but he did. Just at that point, Esfandiari asked the crowd to clear a spot so she could set up shop on the floor. It was a great set, and I stayed for most of it.


I left that set a little early so I could make the long hike over to CAM so I could see Mourn. They wore matching paint-splattered outfits, which made them look more youthful than they already are. I knew that they’re teenagers, but I was shocked by how young they all look. No matter, because they’re a really good indie rock band with loads of potential. This band is way better than they should be at their age. I had to leave after a few songs because I had a lot more to see, and a bit of a hike to get back to the main footprint of the festival.

For the rest of the night, I only saw bands who I will describe using “formerly known as …”.

Very high on my list for the festival was Preoccupations. The Calgary post-punk band formerly known as Viet Cong, so I headed over to Lincoln to catch as much of their set as possible. Unfortunately, I’m limited by the equipment that I have, and I couldn’t get even a halfway decent picture.
As expected, the band was loud and energetic, but something about it fell short of my expectations. They have a slightly different sound now as compared to what they did on the eponymous Viet Cong record. Frontman Matt Flegel was more screaming than singing, and something else was slightly less than I hoped it would be. Which made it easier for me to leave after four or so songs. Even though it was getting late, I still had two more bands to see.

Songs: Molina

I strolled over to Fletcher because I really wanted to catch Songs:Molina. This is more or less the band formerly known as Magnolia Electric Co. The founder of that band, Jason Molina, passed away in 2013 due to organ failure.
He was in a lot of bands and a lot of solo projects with a lot of different styles. Alt-country, folk, indie rock.
One of his “bands” was Songs: Ohia, after which Songs: Molina is obviously named. Many of his projects had revolving members, but Magnolia Electric Co was consistent. And, to my knowledge, Songs:Molina is pretty much the same as Magnolia Electric. Anyway, they were playing a beautiful, heart-felt set, and they talked a bit about how much they all missed Jason. I couldn’t stay very long, though.


Last up was Ó. The Brooklyn indie rock quartet band formerly known as Eskimeaux. Fronted by Gabby Smith, the band features Felix Walworth (Told Slant) on a minimal drum kit set really low to the ground. They were absolutely sensational. They were so energetic and they were really enthusiastic about the festival. I know a lot of bands stop through here while they’re on tour, and they can’t stick around, but it’s always a plus for me when I know that the performers are out there enjoying the festival. These guys clearly are. All of that aside, they totally impressed me with their set. I had it high on my list, but I sort of expected it to be a vanilla performance. Plain, but reliable. What we got was some really deluxe flavour of ice cream. I left there in a really good mood. I was reminded of how I felt when I left the Diet Cig show last year.

All in all, it was a great night, and there’s still a lot more Hopscotch to go.

September 16, 2016 — “Degraded” by Preoccupations



If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Degraded” by Preoccupations (2016, from the album Preoccupations).

Preoccupations is a post-punk quartet from Calgary. They were formerly known as Viet Cong, and they released a stunning eponymous record under that name in January 2015. The album was met with very favourable reviews across the board, and even the impossible to please Ian Cohen over at Pitchfork loved it. It was so well-liked that it ended up making the shortlist for the 2015 Polaris Music Prize. I wrote about the band in advance of the release of that album here and correctly predicted that it would be one of my favourite albums of 2015.

Viet Cong was receiving a lot of high praise, and the band were playing a lot of shows, but they were also getting a ton of negative feedback about their name. Amid cries of racism and just plain tackiness, and after some venues cancelled shows because of their name, they announced last September that they would be rebranding themselves. It took months, though, and finally in April of this year, they announced that they had officially changed their name to Preoccupations.

Although there were some tough times in the band, they kept plugging away, and they worked hard on the new record. Some of the new songs are about the unintended consequences of their former name. One of the songs is actually about the transitional phase. The band had enjoyed a great deal of praise before their 2015 album, and they lived up to the advance hype. For myriad reasons, there was just as much, if not more anticipation about this new album.

I had access to advance copies of the new album, but for whatever reason, I never got around to giving it a spin. Until today, which happens to be the release day. To be completely honest, I haven’t yet given it a thorough listen, but I’ve really liked it based on one spin. It’s still dark and icy like Viet Cong, but there’s just a slightly different feel to it.

After just one spin, there were a few tracks that really stood out. This is one of them:

“Degraded” by Preoccupations

There’s that wonderful bass that brings Peter Hook’s bass to mind. There are bits of terrific feedback squall and fuzz that remind me a bit of A Place to Bury Strangers. And there’s still something that very oddly reminds me of Arcade Fire. There’s a lot going on here, and it’s ticking a lot of boxes for me.

The band is about to embark on the second leg of their 2016 world tour, which puts them on the road until the end of November. Unfortunately, they won’t be playing close enough for me to drive to a show.

The album came out today via Jagjaguwar, and you can buy it in your choice of physical formats here. You can also buy a download via Bandcamp here.

Our favorite albums of 2015 (part 4)

This week I’ve been counting down my favorite albums of 2015. It’s been an outstanding year for new releases, so I had 50 albums in the main list, plus a robust list of 25 Honorable Mentions.

Here are the honorable mentions

Feel free to view the detailed reports, but so far, the list, which I’ve broken down into chunks of five, has gone like this:
50)Lower Dens — Escape From Evil
49)Girl Band — Holding Hands With Jamie
48)Creepoid — Cemetery Highrise Slum
47)Thayer Sarrano — Shaky
46)Rachel Grimes — The Clearing
45)Stolen Jars — Kept
44)Hey Anna — Run Koko
43)Speedy Ortiz — Foil Deer
42)Marriages — Salome
41)Haiku Salut — Etch and Etch Deep
40)The Harrow — Silhouettes
39)Casket Girls — The Piano Album
38)Spectres — Dying
37)Eternal Summers — Gold and Stone
36)Esmerine — Lost Voices

The countdown continues now. Don’t forget to click on album art to get to the place to buy the album.

Diverting Duo — Desire

35)Diverting Duo — Desire
This is the third album by the dreamwave duo from Sardinia. They’re one of many bands in the countdown that are new to me this year. They’re a bit Cocteaus, a bit Dead Can Dance, a bit Beach House. All very good. Because of the album’s late release on October 27, I obviously haven’t had much time to spend with this album, but I love it nonetheless. It’s warm and sexy and mysterious.

Viet Cong — Viet Cong

34)Viet Cong — Viet Cong
The debut album by the Calgary post-punk quartet was probably one of the most anticipated debut records of the year. They had set the indie scene ablaze with their live shows and a cassette EP that you could only buy at their shows. They were also surrounded by controversy because of their name. It was never their intent to do so, but they pissed a lot of people off with that name. Their album was shortlisted for the 2015 Polaris Music Prize, and after there was an incident at the gala, they announced that they would be changing their name in 2016. They’re going to take their time coming up with a new name, but they made it clear that they are changing.
They got the famous music video director Yoonha Park to do two videos for them, and they’re both fantastic. Here’s one.

astrobrite — Deluxer

33)astrobrite — Deluxer
astrobrite is an ambient shoegaze/dream pop recording project based in Chicago. It was headed up by Scott Cortez in 1993 as a side project for his very similar lovesliescrushing. Both projects have been going strong since the early 1990s, and sometimes it’s really hard to tell what’s astrobrite and what’s lovesliescrushing. For a while, both bands used the same vocalist. There’s always an angelic female vocalist, there’s always miles of delay and feedback and tape loops and beautiful noise. It’s worth noting that the Russian shoegaze band Pinkshinyultrablast named themselves after an astrobrite album from 2005. You’ll see them later in the countdown.

Noveller — Fantastic Planet

32)Noveller —Fantastic Planet
Noveller is the ambient/dream pop/noise pop one-woman show created by Brooklyn-based guitarist Sarah Lipstate. She’s been making solo records since 2009, and she’s released something like nine proper albums. And she’s usually literally the only person involved in making her albums. She does it all.
I first learned about her because she frequently contributes to the Radiolab broadcast, and when they take their show on the road, she performs on their stage during the breaks. I fell in love with her 2013 album No Dreams, and I liked this new album one just as much.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor — Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress

31)Godspeed You! Black Emperor — Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress
This is the fourth proper album by the trailblazers of the incredibly vibrant Montréal post-rock scene. As far as I’m concerned, they’ve never made a bad record. That said, this one didn’t sit as well with me as most. I normally reserve a spot in my top ten for new records by Godspeed, but this one didn’t make it there. I got to see them at the 2015 Hopscotch Music Festival. They were on the main stage outdoors on the opening night of the festival. Some pretty substantial rain moved in, and it made it challenging for them and the audience. It was a good set, but since it was my fourth time seeing them, and since there were some great bands that I really wanted to see starting up (indoors) just as they were winding down, I left their set early.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Jeezus! If he put that new Godspeed record at 31, I can’t wait to see what’s on the rest of the list!”. Tomorrow, I’ll post one more chunk to get us down to #26. After that, I’ll take a day or two off before picking back up after the holiday.

%d bloggers like this: