Freak Heat Waves

Mon. April 23, 2018

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 9:00 pm

Underground Arts

$13.00 - $15.00

This event is 21 and over

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 razorsharp.
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-anddestroy
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.
Freak Heat Waves
Freak Heat Waves
In the two years since their last release, Freak Heat Waves have continued a perpetual process of transformation. Shedding familiar influences from the heavily excavated histories of post-punk and krautrock, the band has now beamed into uncharted territory with the otherworldly sound of their third album, Beyond XXXL.

On this 11-song excursion, alien strains of synth-pop and glam-rock are sandblasted with smooth guitar solos, eerie electronics, and pulsating drum machines propelled into skull-shattering breakbeats. Deeply distorted vocals narrate the narcoleptic trip like a DJ Screw mixtape splicing together John Foxx, John Maus, and The Prodigy. The result is Freak Heat Waves’ most cohesive and captivating release to date, amplifying earlier melodic sensibilities while remaining singularly strange.

“In the past we were happy to use identifiable instruments, but this time we were set on creating our own sounds,” says singer and multi-instrumentalist Steven Lind, offering the album’s unofficial mission statement. “We processed everything, blended drum machines with real drums, and re-amped our synths and guitars to get into a mutant futuristic zone. New territory was the goal.”

While Freak Heat Waves’ core duo of Lind and Thomas DiNinno have primarily operated from the coastal community of Victoria, B.C., they originally formed in Medicine Hat, Alberta and have now made their most recent relocation to Montreal. Throughout extensive tours of North America, various line-ups of the group have included Cindy Lee/Women’s Patrick Flegel, Fountain’s Evan Jeffery, and Kyle Sherrill of Atlanta art-rockers Red Sea.

Freak Heat Waves’ 2012 debut was recorded with the late Chris Reimer (Women and The Dodos), while their celebrated sophomore LP Bonnie’s State of Mind saw a co-producer credit from Scott Munro (Preoccupations). On Beyond XXXL, Lind and DiNinno hunkered down to self-produce the album almost entirely independently. This process began in the studio facilities of Portland Community College, where electronic percussion expert Shawn Trail assisted with engineering the guitar, bass, and drum machines providing its foundation. Over the next nine months, the duo gave birth to their extraterrestrial baby, painstakingly shaping each sound in a pair of home studios.

Beyond XXXL matches the artifice of its alien pop with lyrics describing chameleonic performers sinking into their self-created costumes. Lind introduces this intention on opener “Self Vortex” as he intones “it ain't an escape / I want a way to transform tonight.” The slowly swirling “Bad Mutation” brings a more cynical view, as he describes “an ugly subculture” with “more banter for the audience” from someone “so realistic your sanity twisted.” Lind lets his guard down on the glittering romance of “Soothing Limbo”, but by “I Can’t Tell” it’s no longer possible to recognize a loved one who has begun to “simulate the taste and the smell.”

“Sell A Line” imagines early Roxy Music with Brian Eno’s sputtering synths pushed to the forefront and cultural critiques that could be set in any era: “Transformation of a western nation / Fake exorcism for the sake of religion / And televise the whole ordeal.” On “Subliminal Appeal”, the artist has become a politician: a “belligerent ex-showman / delivering programmed slogan.” Their tragic metamorphosis is completed on closer “In The Dip Of The Night,” as Lind reveals his revulsion to the “prima donna of subversive sound” spreading smoke and media hoaxes until the “spotlight shines and then spits you out.” Yet could it have been himself all along?

Before melting into thin air, Freak Heat Waves unleash the most striking musical moment on Beyond XXXL, which could point to their next transformation. The brain-battering blitzkrieg of “Toxic Talk Show” may sound completely drum machine driven, yet Lind explains that this self-described “grotesque freak-out rave” reached its apex with the band’s original mode of instrumentation.

“We wanted the album to have more intensity and insanity with an over the top dance number,” says Lind. “That one started with Thomas writing the synth line and the beat on the drum machine. We liked it but weren’t sure how to bring up the energy level, and funnily enough it became one of the only songs that uses a full drum kit. For the rest of the record we were trying to dial things back, but that’s the one song where we got free. We exorcised our demons right before the album ends.”

- Jesse Locke
Venue Information:
Underground Arts
1200 Callowhill Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19108