Total Control come of age with Typical System
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My baby is asleep and it’s 8pm and I sit down to write and I listen to Typical System. I’m off to work and it’s 8am and I drive there with Typical System shuddering out of the speakers. I’m driving home at 5pm and, yeah, it’s there again. That’s been life since Total Control, the Melbourne post-punks, released their second full-length to widespread critical acclaim. They received an 8.0 from P4K, were the feature record on triple j for a week, and received a perfect 5/5 from The Guardian. That’s an awesome reception, wherever you’re from.
Formed from members of Eddy Current Suppression Ring and UV Race, they released Henge Beat in 2011 on Iron Lung Records, which was an off-kilter but engaging post-punk album. I saw them support Thee Oh Sees on the back of a US tour and a split EP together. They were so stolid and stoic, aside from drummer James Vinciguerra, who was a one man whirlybird in the centre of the stage. His drumming is so similar to Stephen Morris it’s astounding, the steadiness of a metronome conflated with the intricate random additions only some replicant should be capable of. On top of that motor Total Control build layers of garage-rough guitar and almost quaint synth sounds. They pull influences from krautrock, post-punk, proto-synth, hardcore, synth pop and this kind of spacey bossa nova sort of thing. There sound is that of a melting pot, and each genre is given a track’s worth of exploration. So, nearly the best thing about Typical System is the way it flows (but very nearly doesn’t).
The record opens with “Glass”, an incredible dance-oriented track in the vein of New Order. It’s light-hearted fun and doom-gloom at the same time, with vocalist Dan Stewart breathing out “spitting on / foreign lands / on bloody stones / and glass we dance” over the most bouncing beat released this year. Its opening synth blops are immediately enticing, but its overall 80s dance theme is jarringly shifted when the follower “Expensive Dog” barges onto the scene. An icy, thrashy hardcore garage track, “Expensive Dog” dispenses with the synth in favour of messy guitar and a vocal filter over Stewart’s voice that casts him as the metallic audio speaker at some dystopian proletariat factory, decrying to the masses the bleak situation they’re in. The repeated refrain is “There is someone standing over you”, both a threat and a warning, and wholly unnerving. Then the order jumps ship again, back to the realm of the synthesiser as “Flesh War” rolls in. A much gentler track then either of the last two, the chorus even straying into indie pop, aside from the lyrics, with each line beginning with a different violent verb (tear, break, carve). But the rounded guitar tone, gently pounding drums and smooth synth all roll up into an exquisite track.
The order continues essentially in this way, going from clever synth rock to oft hardcore garage rock, at least for the first half of the record. The second half begins with the garage stuff, then falls wholly into the synth stuff, though still utilising the brash guitars. “Black Spring” opens side B, a seven-and-a-half minute burner of track, its steady kraut beat butting horns with the wiry guitar riff that loops and loops as the white noise and black hum build beneath. Then comes an instrumental track, “The Ferryman”, the odd spacey lounge track that works with the rest, no matter how bent out of shape it seems.
The album closes with two astoundingly astute synth tracks, “The Hunter” and “Safety Net”. The lyrics of the latter seem almost a mantra for the band, convincing themselves to step out of the shadows of the underground and see what life is like for a critically acclaimed and approachable band.
But that ordering, man. I haven’t yet, but I want to try splitting the songs into two rough genres and listening to what are essentially two disparate but equally great extended players that have been mashed together to form a mind-blowing long player. All of the synth tracks are great, and all of the garage tracks are great, but that ordering sometimes irks me. Though ultimately it’s won me over. At times I want to listen to a great New Order, synth-rock, daze album, and damn “Glass” gets me in the mood every time. But then “Expensive Dog” comes on and I’m like “well, this is rad too, let’s go with this”. Then we’re back to synthesisers and it starts again. This I can see as being jarring to people, but I think what it ultimately does is prove the strength of every individual song on the album, and that the disparateness is in fact a boon. It shows the skill with which Total Control command their songwriting, their ability to jump from genre to genre and so from strength to strength.
But more than that, it does an amazing job of giving a brief history of post-punk music. From the politically minded art punk to the nihilistic synth pop, Total Control dominate any other proponent of the genre, and beat them out in an exhausting but satisfying effort to encapsulate all the fantastic music that falls under the self-conscious umbrella of post-punk. What they’ve done with Typical System is break down borders by forcing them together, tear apart the idea that a band makes an album that is variations on the one sound, and carve up the indecisiveness of genre-bending. Their vision is straight and true, and Typical System is stunning.