Review: Typical System – Total Control

By Kyle Redman

It’s been three years since Melbourne post-punk, cult supergroup of sorts, Total Control released their debut full-length album Henge Beat to supreme under-hype – which was bizarre, to say the least. Total Control boasts Dan Stewart from UV Race acclaim, and Mickey Young of Eddy Current Suppression Ring and Lace Curtain notoriety. In fact, this band stretches the entire synapse of Melbourne’s garage rock scene. It’s a supergroup whichever way you look at it, yet despite its impressive New Wave sci-fi punk and dystopian themes, Henge Beat didn’t make a big splash. It did splash though, and since then, Total Control has amassed a sort of cult following amongst those with their fingers on the pulse of Melbourne’s garage scene.

On the back of a split 7-inch with Thee Oh Sees, some experimental singles, and returns to their own regular musical projects, Total Control have come back in 2014 with another full-length album, Typical System. It’s more mature sounding – a relaxed experimentation of breezy new wave synth intervals, best showcased on the opener “Glass”, and acute scratchy punk jams, (see “Expensive Dog”). Musically, the six-piece are totally in control (sorry), deftly rotating from a rocking psych jam session in “Black Spring”, over to the synth musing in “The Ferryman”, and further on to Moog dripping doom-tronica in “Hunter”. These transitions are seamless because you never really know what side of the experiment you’re going to meet with each track. In fact, they close the album with what is perhaps their most accessible track in “Safety Net”, so much is their disregard for convention.

Sonically, the band are supreme, and it’s easy to coast through the jam sessions and the smooth synth rides without deep engagement. You’d be missing half of the fun, though. Dead poet and resident nihilist philosopher Dan Stewart loads tracks “Systemic Fuck” and “Black Dog” with open-ended questions poking at the end of times. True to his Nietzschean inspiration, Dan demonstrates a cunning sense of humour, waxing deadpan existential lyricism and monotonous complaints – “You were your worst” – snapping into Iceage-esque snarls between “Liberal Party” and “Two Less Jacks”, the latter ending with yells of “I surrender”.

You don’t have to intellectualise what’s presented here. The swirling guitar and drum repetition matches with the synth loops and Total Control’s bouncey sense of consistent rhythm. Sounds of new wave haunt the album, rearing prominently in the track “Flesh War”. It’s a straightforward ghost of post-punk – you can feel Joy Division, Suicide, and the Buzzcocks – but despite how orthodox the sound really is, Dan finds room for more radical lyricism. Slowly shifting lyrics mutate from “news” and “fame” to “noose” and “flame”. It’s a comment as straightforward as the instrumentation, a Kafkaesque dystopian life under surveillance. In their most conformist, Total Control are radical.

Total Control aren’t a band in a sense; their soundcloud is labelled with “WE CAN’T TOUR”. They’re a supergroup returning to their regular projects now, and if this is their final work, they’ve departed from a superb exploration of post-punk, philosophical-manifesto lyricism and sick psych jams. Listen to this with the news on mute.