Total Control: Laughing at the System 12"

Total Control: Laughing at the System 12"

Tags: · 10s · australia · melodic · post-punk · recommended · spo-default · spo-disabled
Alter Records
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Received an 8.0 rating from Pitchfork. "However you might try to find the words for it, Total Control's caustic charm is stunning and oblique. A sensible account of the band typically focuses on its parts—the associated groups, the touring configurations, etc.—as if finding ways by which Total Control is divisible gleans critical information for breaking through their cryptic sheen. With tonic, wry twists, and forever employing aphoristic brevity for the comic/cosmic dynamite that it is best reserved for, the band seems to indulge this with each new release, or tour, or whatever's put on the counter. The bands European tour tape from 2015 was a sure reminder of this.

Their new 12", Laughing At The System, is a succinct statement, but it feels like the sharpest thing they've ever assembled. Written and recorded over the past couple of years in various lounge rooms, bedrooms, and rehearsal studios, across Melbourne, regional Victoria, and Western Australia, Al Montfort, Daniel Stewart, James Vinciguerra, Mikey Young, and Zephyr Pavey are—for the record—all accounted for in the process.

Laughing At The System is bookended by a title track in two parts. The scattered mania of the opener is an unsettling beginning, with cascading madhouse-riffs somehow finding a ricocheting unison. The closing part has the familiar head-charge of Total Control's most gnashing moments, with the guitars balancing the equation between running-too-fast and drinking-too-fast in one queasy commitment. With a brilliantly acerbic wit, we're implored to gather that there's some equivalences here. And it's this kind of impulse that's kept up throughout the 12".

Drizzled with Vinciguerra's fraught fills, which have the rare quality of being unmistakably his in both electronic and acoustic form, this punctuation comes in and out of focus between elegiac moments and breezy experimentation, the latter including the elated instrumental 'Cathie and Marg.' Throughout, Stewart scripts a tumultuous wake for a flatlining reality, forever nudging the listener to second-guess themselves about the sincerity and intent. Far from cynical, but earnestly neurotic, the potency of the atmosphere that Total Control has mustered across Laughing At The System registers as a deeply commanding, though bleak, psychedelicism for the future."

Our take: Like a lot of people, I’m sure, I was pretty excited to learn that there was a new Total Control record and I jumped online to listen to it as soon as it was available. I really liked it immediately, so I was kind of puzzled when I started seeing some people express mixed feelings toward the record on various places on the internet. It didn’t really seem to me like Laughing at the System was that much of a different record than Typical System, but after going back and listening to that record I can acknowledge that Laughing is pretty different… it’s notably devoid of the dance floor-ready beats and big choruses of Typical System, with the band instead exploring quirkier rhythms, more dissonant harmonies and more unfamiliar textures. However, these are precisely the kinds of things I’ve been interested in exploring in my own music-listening in the years since Typical System came out, so listening to Laughing at the System it sounds perfectly natural to me. Another reason why less adventurous listeners might find this to be a more “difficult” record is because all of the songs are quite different from one another. This has been the case, at least to some extent, with most of Total Control’s previous releases, but the variety on Laughing really is quite striking. However, every single track here has something that I absolutely love, whether it’s the quirky rhythm of “Laughing at the System I” (which, as a number of people have noted, sounds quite a lot like the later Whatever Brains material), the Robert Fripp-esque abstract guitar of “Vote Cops,” or the ambient Kraut-isms of “Cathie and Marg.” So, if you’re expecting Typical System Part II you might be disappointed, but if you’ve spent the years since that record working to explore all of the other corners of the record store I think you’ll love this just as much as, if not more than, any other Total Control record.