PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


controller.controller: History

Adrien Begrand



Label: Paper Bag
US Release Date: 2004-02-24
UK Release Date: Available as import

Call it what you will, death disco, dance punk, what have you, but the current revival of dance-oriented post punk is one of the more exciting trends to come about in recent years, a real shot in the arm for rock music in general, a genre whose sales been stagnating lately. Whether it's The Rapture's fantastic "House of Jealous Lovers", !!!'s ingenious, nine- minute funkfest "Me & Giuliani Down By the School Yard", or the disco-meets garage rock stomp of Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out", it's fun to see all these young bands creating such energetic, catchy, and above all else, danceable guitar rock, proving that you don't need synthesizers and samples to create great dance music.

If everyone else is doing it, why can't Canada? Toronto, Ontario isn't known for setting any major trends in popular music, but they can jump on the indie hipster bandwagon with the best of them. So it's no real surprise that, in the wake of this current indie rock trend, that the Canadian city has their own homegrown dance punk act the locals could drool over. Controller.controller, for the past year, has been hailed as one of Canada's finest indie acts, their intense, atmospheric live shows in Eastern Canada generating a fair share of buzz. Now signed to Paper Bag Records, the label responsible for such stalwarts as Broken Social Scene and Metric, they're ready to bring the music to the masses. And you know what? The hype from the Toronto media is completely justified.

History is the band's first official release, and while the seven-track, 24-minute CD doesn't quite make history, it's a record that definitely pays homage to the past. Like the best post punk/new wave bands of the late '70s and early '80s, controller.controller's music sounds stiff, yet propulsive. Drummer Jeff Scheven provides an incessant, insistent disco beat (like PIL's seminal "Death Disco"), guitarists Colwyn Llewllyn-Thomas and Scott Kaija alternate from miming the melodic synth lines of Depeche Mode and the slicing, angular guitar licks of Gang of Four, and the cool, yet seductive Nirmala Basnayake delivers half spoken, half sung vocals, in the same style as The Slits. As opposed to a band like The Rapture, whose Robert Smith-style caterwauling tends to grate after a while, with Basnayake at the helm, controller.controller are on to something really good here. As she brashly sings at one point, "Let's rewrite your history."

The new CD is quick, relentless, and instantly memorable, not letting up for one minute. The title track is dark and hypnotic, Basnayake sounding both coy and threatening, Llewellyn-Thomas and Kaija playing off each other, trading jarring riffs, while bassist Ronnie Morris carries the song with his melodic, fluid bassline. "Silent Seven" has more of a Joy Division feel in the verses, with the chiming, gloomy guitars and the song's murky lyrics ("So if we're good/ This means of course that things can only go wrong"), before exploding into a boisterous chorus, not to mention a sly nod to Rockwell's 1984 hit "Somebody's Watching Me". The short, ferocious "Bruised Broken Beaten" is straightforward post punk, while Basnayake turns in her best vocal performance on the searing "Watch".

As good as those songs are, two tracks offer glimpses at how great controller.controller can be. "Bruised Broken Beaten" combines a jittery guitar riff, a punchy beat, and the unlikely rave-up chorus of "V-one-five-point-eight-five" (according to the band, it's a medical chart code for a certain sexual dysfunction). The fabulous "Disco Blackout", though, is the CD's standout; sounding at first like a Strokes knock-off, it quickly veers off into another direction, the band delivering a dark, pounding sound, the most intense they've sounded on the record, as Basnayake sneers away, seeming to address her American neighbors: "You wanna hear about parallels/ How about the 49th/ What keeps you down there?/ What keeps you up at night?". Evoking the feeling of a sweltering summer night, she then sings, "This city's getting so hot/ They're gonna cut the lights," perhaps an allusion to the great Eastern Seaboard blackout of 2003, repeating the line like a mantra. Much like The Walkmen's great single "The Rat", it feels so tightly wound, on the verge of frantic, the kind of exhilarating music that can incite an entire room full of people to move.

History greatly benefits from its 24-minute length; it's brief, to the point, and monotony doesn't set in. Whether or not controller.controller is able to build on the great promise of "Disco Blackout" remains to be seen, but when you hear this superb debut, you'll realize this likely won't be much of a problem. Right now, they are indeed the band to watch north of the border.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.