Release Date: Jun 24, 2014
Record label: Iron Lung
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
These Melbourne weirdos' 2011 debut, Henge Beat, was a really exceptional leftfield rock record – one of the best to come out of Australia's underground in recent years, and there's a lot of strong competition in that area, not least from the members' own other bands – and this follow-up is perhaps even better. They're still in the business of shunting messy, fleshy guitars and steely, machine-dream synths together in terrifically unobvious ways here, and doing it with more depth and breadth than ever. There's the dense, metronomic punk chug of Expensive Dog; Black Spring's needling, alien boogie; and on Flesh War, a real goosebumps moment when singer Daniel Stewart's icy, deadpan boom breaks into a shockingly pretty synth-pop chorus.
Total Control's debut album, Henge Beat, may just have been the most under-hyped album of 2011; everyone who did hear it fell in love, and yet the band is still relatively unknown. That won't be the case with their sophomore effort, as Henge Beat has found enough fans since its release to give Typical System the reception it deserves.Henge Beat's philosophical post-punk came with a healthy side of synth-y intervals, which presented a real curious design. On Typical System, the band come off sounding much more comfortable with their experimenting.
Melbourne based five piece Total Control aren’t a band as such, rather a group of musicians all interlinked by other musical projects coming together to indulge their gloomier sides. Lead vocalist Dan Stewart, a dead poet/philosopher obsessive who heads to the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, Yukio Mishima and Maurice Blanchot (he’s a philosophy student) for inspiration, also sings with hardcore punk group Straightjacket Nation and drums for gimp rockers UV Race. Mickey Young is a member of garage rockers Eddy Current Suppression Ring, post-punkers Ooga Booga, and part of the electro-gone-Talking-Heads project Lace Curtain on DFA.
When bands give a genre a much needed shot in the arm, they usually do so by borrowing from one band in particular who made said genre great. This is an even more prevalent tactic when it comes to post-punk. Interpol made its name with Paul Banks' Ian Curtis impersonation. Even last year, Savages couldn't escape comparisons to Siouxsie & The Banshees.
Total Control’s second album takes hold like a headache. It’s suffocating, lyrically unforgiving and a near-faultless expression of the bleak power of minimal punk. ‘Glass’ whips like helicopter blades, ‘Expensive Dogs’ is unremittingly harsh, the desolate ‘Liberal Party’ references a “shattered sense of worth” and ‘Black Spring’ ends in bloody dissonance.
Total Control are five Melbourne men dead-set on pumping life into the spiritual tradition of post-punk exploration with little regard for sonic congruity. The lyric sheet for their new album, Typical System, reads like stream-of-consciousness beat poetry; in between songs, it's dotted with manifesto-like musings that don't actually appear on the recordings. "Our fragile subject confuses festivity for a grave militaristic orgy, and pens a carol to document collapse," reads the note following "Bloody Glass", the minimal wave experiment that opens the album.
Total Control is a band that emerged out of Australia’s punk scene, but on Typical Systems it shows no allegiance to any one genre. Instead, this is a bracing and dynamic record, as heavy with rock muscle as it is braced by pop nuance. The band is capable of huge moments that feel taut with energy and emotion. “Black Spring” runs seven minutes, but travels on a tightwire hook and deep, echoed vocals that give the song a Cave-esque gravitas.
At first, it’s hard to discern whether Total Control operate as performance pranksters or genuine post-punk innovators. The Australian five piece are constantly on the verge of outright panic on their second full-length Typical System, communicating with an altered perception of self that’s conveyed in a rather urgent tone through their sometimes nettling, other times inviting dark sounds. There’s a remarkable duality in their work greatly due to frontman Dan Stewart, an early thirties philosophy student who almost treats his band as a cathartic vehicle to vent his personal feelings.
The idea of a “systematic fuck” implies a pleasurable sort of chaos, manipulated here and there by someone or something, perhaps melodically, with purpose and carelessness. The fourth track on Total Control’s Typical System bears that name, the title offering a description of the way in which the entirety flows in and out of jarringly different tracks via a variety of sounds plucked heavily from a post-punk palette. Australia-based bandmates Mikey Young, Dan Stewart, Al Montfort, Zephyr Pavey, and James Vinciguerra interweave (alternating almost exactly one-for-one) synth-driven, cool-voiced, dance-ready tracks with guitar-driven, mosh-potential headbangers.
"We know what we like and we know what we don't like. " That curt phrase has become the topic sentence for Iron Lung Records, the Washington grind label that hosts the legendary band of the same name and an unrelenting roster of like-minded hardcore acts. If you've listened to anything from the label in this year alone, you'll know that what they generally like is punk rock nastiness: Demonbrother's Beyond The Veil sticks out in particular, a slab of zero tolerance powerviolence that sounds like it's been put through Paulstretch and thrown into a black hole.