Total Control’s forthcoming second album Typical System, which follows 2011's very good Henge Beat, is a strong synth-pop record with a palpable undercurrent of darkness in its vocal delivery and lyrics. And while that tinge of dread, courtesy of frontman Dan Stewart, separates this band from others in Melbourne, Australia’s punk scene, it also has the potential to be their undoing. Their current SoundCloud bio reads “WE CAN’T TOUR SORRY,” and it’s not a joke; during a conversation via Skype, drummer James Vinciguerra confirms that “the likelihood of touring is slim-to-none.” He’s hesitant to elaborate, just saying that “certain people don’t really want to [tour].” From the sound of things, following the album’s June 24 release via Iron Lung, they just might slip into a hiatus.
But that shouldn’t discount the music they’ve made thus far. If anything, the apprehension toward hitting the road is a reflection of just how seriously Stewart, in particluar, considers his own work. The singer explains that this band can’t operate the same way other bands do. “Total Control is quite an emotionally demanding experience for me,” he says. “I love being on the road and traveling, but a lot of the songs [on Typical System] were written out of troubling, traumatic experiences.” He doesn’t go into detail, but the record’s abstract lyrics, which read like poems, are undeniably bleak. Take “Black Spring”: “So the rot set in, green turned grey and dead/ And now you know you’re to live, thrive, and lick.”
Stewart, a 32-year-old student of philosophy who runs his own zine, started the band with guitarist Mikey Young in 2008. He is very well-read. The lyrics for Henge Beat came after a summer spent reading Friedrich Nietzsche and “a lot of post-Nietzschean French guys.” He says his preoccupation with the philosopher was “a pretty unhealthy obsession.” Stewart uses that word—“obsession”—a lot. “I don’t think I can really live without obsession,” he confesses. While writing Typical System, he pored over the Japanese writer Yukio Mishima, the French writer Maurice Blanchot, the Romanian philosopher E.M. Cioran, the Melbourne poet John Forbes, and the controversial neo-folk outfit Death in June.
-Evan Minsker - Pitchfork