Hot sounds! Though creaking in at only 20 minutes, Total Control’s first release in three years Laughing at the System re-coronates them as Australia’s premiere minimal punk noise-synth champs. While not made of the same slow-building fugue layers as their 2014 workplace masterpiece Typical System, LATS foregrounds a richer, clearer production and tight songwriting.
Sometimes they seemed sedated, walking through a wonder-world of new products “laughing at the need machine” (“Her Majesty, Budgie”), other times stunned into robotic punk directives (“Vote Cops”). Singer Dan Stewart tosses around a lot ‘laughing’ ruminations, but what is he laughing at so much? The dissolution of meaning “I’m laughing ha ha ha as the threads come loose/ admit the gaze/ through the holes you choose,” laughing at the poverty of free-will and at himself (hopefully)? It’s all open-ended.
Total Control skirts dopey elevator pop with sheer force of attitude – you know it’s punk cause of the blank monotone piled on top of the saccharine casino noise. There’s always a tension crystalizing inside the sweetness, and then occasionally the guitars come out too. The obscure undercurrents of ambivalence enrich this nugget: Is Stewart mocking the hackneyed platitudes of a third-rate revolutionary blogger or genuinely punching at the air? Has Mikey Young forever tossed his Eddy Current Suppression Ring gas-station swagger for silicon bits and baubles? Either way it’s a solid slab of deception from these hall-of-mirrors chums, and I’m buying.
Assistant reviewer Hardcore Mike adds: “Sounds like Oingo Boingo.”
Laughing at the System is out now via Alter records.