Total Control is not a band known for consistency. Before releasing their first LP Henge Beat in 2011 the Australian quintet struggled with their identity, spending years flushing out a sound that alternated between post-punk, new wave, psych and garage rock. They charted their progress, releasing an EP a year for four consecutive years, each sounding like it could have been written by a completely different band.
They were able to pull it together in a sense with Henge Beat, creating a noisy, new-wave record that saw them rise to notoriety in a variety of underground circles. There were still incongruencies, but they felt measured in the way that a good mixtape is able to draw from different genres without any single-track feeling out of place. Still, the album fell short in its imagination. The disparate songs seemed more like accolades to their respective influences, like a well-curated art show made up of pieces that only replicated the work of great artists. They’d found a way to make them all work together in one room, but they did little to push the boundaries of what each of these schools had already accomplished.
With Typical System, the band’s sophomore release, Total Control seem to have wholly realized their knack for fusion, stepping out confidently, shedding the lo-fi production for a fuller sound all around. True to form, Typical System is an amalgamation of genres and influences, moving seamlessly between new wave, post punk and electronica, the album possessing a certain fluidity that keeps any single track from being representative of the record as a whole.
Songs like “Glass” and “Flesh War” have an experimental-pop feel, backed by the flat, detached vocals that singer by-way-of philosopher Daniel Stewart has made his signature. His poetic musings feel pensive and deliberate, conveying a sort of intentional hesitance above the layers of synth and mechanical drums, a measured coldness that just barely keeps the track from bursting out into a full on pop anthem.
Other tracks like “Expensive Dog” and “Systematic Fuck” see Stewart exhibiting a more visceral side to his lyricism. Straightforward in their delivery, the songs sit somewhere between Crisis and Gang of Four on the spectrum of late 70’s UK punk. The rhythm sections power them forward, a fury of driving drums and thick, distorted baselines. Heavy on reverb, the vocal hooks are there too, disguised as they are in time-tested punk rhetoric. “You’re the one to blame,” Stewart chants, “You’re the one to blame, systematic fuck!”
Even the slower numbers like horn-laden “Liberal Party” or “Black Spring,” a seven and a half minute digression into krautrock, seem to fall just in place, essential pieces to the larger puzzle. It’s as if the whole thing were tossed into a sonic melting pot, the mixture remaining just cool enough so that each of the independent parts is still discernable, albeit in a warped version of its original state. The margins blur and their borders meld together to create an interconnected whole as it solidifies, the finished product anything but typical in its composition.
“You don’t need a safety net,” Stewart croons as the record comes to a close and nothing could be more fitting. Typical System sees the band finally reconciling their many faces, unwilling, or perhaps unable, to confine themselves to any specific genre. They pull together their extensive influences and expand on them with brazen coolness, achieving an eclectic sound that’s just consistent enough, but also unique in a way that stands out from its forebears.