TOTAL CONTROL Henge Beat [Iron Lung]
During the last few years, the World, and esp. thee United States, has seen a honest-to-G-d real living breathing Australian underground Invasion. Scores of Oz acts are washing up on our shores, bright-eyed, eager to take this country, or wherever they may be, by storm. And this Invasion has yielded some real quality acts, such as: Circle Pit, Eddie Current Suppression Ring, Fabulous Diamonds, Naked on the Vague, Deaf Wish, UV Race, etc etc. That last one has a connection to this Long-playing record. And that connection has many tendrils, creeping like vines into all manner of Aus underground rock.
Musically, Total Control is the brain-child of Mikey Young, a musical polymath responsible for much of the sounds in groups like the aforementioned Eddy Current; weirdo garage-punks Ooga Boogas; and an electronic project called, uh, Brain Children. The range of this man’s sonic palate is quite impressive, as is his restraint and knack for the subtle hook. Lyrically and vocally, Total Control is essentially the vision of one man; DX, a fellow who seems to accomplish quite a bit on a daily basis, maintaining an intensity and integrity which would exhaust most normal folks. I’m guessing Daniel doesn’t feel like a normal folk very much, thus his lung-scorching in Clevo HC-worshippers Straightjacket Nation; his primitive drum-bashing in weirdo punk ensemble the UV Race; his “All Foreign Junk” column in MRR, and his long-running top-of-the-heap punk zine, Distort. All of a sudden 24 hours doesn’t seem like such a long time. And I’m guessing he saves Total Control for nighttime. After 3 excellent singles, all of which revealed a different facet of this glittering jewel, Total Control unleashes its first full-length on the general populace, and I’ll be shit-pickled if it isn’t one of the finest LPs I’ve heard this year. A real head-turner, crowd-pleaser, and melon-squeezer. Buckle up.
One of the more interesting things about Henge Beat (hanging on a hinge; Stone-) is how it simultaneously evokes images of neon-lit cyberpunk cityscapes, and wide-open vistas with vast horizons, streaking through the night in your automobile, headlight trails in the rearview mirror. Opener “See More Glass” (OK, a Salinger ref? Maybe. A little corny but…) pulses down some existential highway like it’s being ghost-ridden by Rev/Vega with a suitcase full of Kraftwerk LPs in the back, and is that an Another Green World sample floating to the top? Hell if I know, but it sounds great. Is this one of the finest Suicide rips out there? Just might be. Yet it also evokes a similar journey to the heart of the city as Pop. 1280’s “Neon Lights” from their split single with Hot Guts last year. “Retiree” follows, and it hits harder and better than the original 7” version (also on Iron Lung). “One More Tonight” appropriates the haughty sound of 1980 UK wave, almost Magazine-esque. The coda/chorus is irresistible, a rush of sound collapsing into a snippet of Cabaret Voltaire-ish abstraction which fades perfectly into the most accessible cut on the album, “The Hammer,” a pitch-perfect sliver of early Human League/OMD synth-pop with soothing vocals and cascading keyboard lines. Sandwich this between any number of New Wave hits on an 80s night and no-one would bat an eyelash. Even in the Batcave. “Stonehenge” closes out the first side with another guitar-driven post-punker.
Side Two is dominated by its opener, “Carpet Rash,” seven full minutes of angular and danceable electro-rock that shoe-sniffers like Bloc Party or Arctic Monkeys would kill to lay down so effortlessly. The music takes a turn into queasy territory culminating in “Meds II,” which features the refrain “taking pills to remember to take pills to forget.” “Sunday Baker” is a lovely Cluster confection before Total Control bring back the neonlicht ambience of “Love Performance.” The Man Machine sings to himself in the big sky night: “These are not the last days….”
Kitchen’s Floor Look Forward to Nothing [Negative Guest List]
Here we have a perfect, succinct (10 songs/20 minutes) example of depression-in-action. Not inaction as in paralyzed (although a few of these songs will stop you dead in yr tracks), but as in harnessing-of; reign-taking, a shouting-down of all the crummy black feelings collected at the bottom of yr coffee cup, the existential nullification of one’s own distress. In pop song format.
Look Forward to Nothing opens wide with the blasted doom-pop of “No Love,” bits of Bill Direen poking thru its suffocated screen, then jumps right into “Graves,” which sounds like the killer, quasi-triumphant second half of the previous song. A slight pause, then a genuinely great song sticks itself in yr craw. “116” has shades of the appealing domesticity of Guided By Voices (is that a house number?); simple but effective guitar hook, a bummer of a chorus (“I am the last one you’d love”), and then it’s over. A minute and a half. Anything more would be frivolous.
And despite its raw Ahia squall, Look Forward to Nothing is not necessarily a lo-fi record. The vocals are blown-out, providing that extra desperate edge, but the band plays tight and economically. The longest song, “Everyday,” is an instrumental, as if the singer is just too numb to be bothered. In fact, the entire proceedings are deep-fried; not in a boiling oil sense, but in an acid-exhausted sense. There is a weariness to these sounds, as if Kitchen’s Floor are ringing the last remaining life out of this style. What style? Well, 90s “indie-punk.” Tons of Columbus, some fellow Southern Hemisphereans (Doublehappys? S. Fits?); pull-quote: “Skip Spence raised on Archers of Loaf.” The smeared acoustic drawl of “Kidney Infection” would almost sound at home on Beck’s One Foot in The Grave.
This album reminds me of cursed times past. Go nowhere, do nothing. There was something comforting in the aimlessness of a “Don’t give a shit about shit” lifestyle. I suppose there still is. Kitchen’s Floor are down on their knees, searching out the final crumbs from this particular table. Crawl on, say I.
Degreaser Bottom Feeder [Negative Guest List]
Sometimes a record is nail-on-the-head titled. The package complete. Song titles clue you into what the record will do for, and to, you.
Bottom Feeder is a heart-of-darkness kind of safari; a trench that your ego fell into, and it’s down there in the muck, swimming around, sucking off the other scavengers for sustenance, and hoarding any remnants of pleasure remaining. “Swampy” doesn’t even begin to describe this album.
Singer/guitarist Tim Evans, a very tall man borne of Tasmania, and member of several significant Oz bands, channels the darker ends of human emotions. I can’t make out most of what he’s saying but I’m not sure it matters; it sounds as if he’s recounting all the nasty things he’s done, but to himself, trying to figure out if he should feel “bad” for these things, or if that is just the nature of ourselves, Man, men.
“Teeth in Mouth” “Like a Ball” “On the Throne” “Snake Dick Blues” “Caveman’s Lament” “Human Postcard” “Treat You Right”
That last one is probably a cruel joke. These are the blues; NYC transplant no wave blues for sure, but the unmistakable bleakness is older than time. The music on here is heavy in the way Godflesh or SWANS are heavy. It is smothering. Endless trails of delayed-out noise-guitar flail over the rumbling and crashing of the rhythm section as they plow forward, as if of one mind.
This album is most certainly a maelstrom, a vortex; Evans is down in his hole, with the Devil perhaps, but even worse, with himself. Does he even want to climb out? Listen to this album and hazard a guess. Unless you get sucked down there with him, another victim of the black Hole.
[Last two reviews originally published in The Negative Guest List #30.]