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Night Control - Death Control

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Artist: Night Control

Album: Death Control

Label: Kill Shaman

Review date: Mar. 30, 2009

Night Control is ostensibly cast from the same mold as loner bosses like Blank Dogs, Catatonic Youth and Kurt Vile. There’s the foreboding album name, obscured portraiture as album art, and detached vocals filtered through miles of distortion. But Christopher Curtis Smith’s one-man debut Death Control errs more on the side of contemplation. He employs a synthesized orchestra to compose lofty choruses and hook-laden arrangements of completely synthetic sounds. Pianos, horns, even operatic tenors are replicated with a host of fuzz and MIDI tones that shine on instrumental anthems, such as the elegiac "Two Hard."

But there’s a soul lurking here, something much more than the sterile clockworks put together by other bed-wave post-punkers. This boy’s got heart. Opener "Good Looks" kicks off nearly 80 minutes of unceasingly memorable music by setting a course that runs right between the measured coolness of the Velvet Underground and the lofty dreamscapes of My Bloody Valentine. The song goes beyond just a knack for lush melody and emotionally evocative walls of sound. Simply nodding along won’t suffice. The physical reaction stems from something much deeper.

Despite similarities to both the VU and MBV, Night Control never allows the music to become an intellectual endeavor. Always impish, he seems to sneak a wink whenever he can, like on the piano-fueled western of "Know Thy Peasant." There’s a precociousness reminiscent of other young, weird American songwriters (oddly, Ben Kweller’s Sha Sha comes to mind). And for all the bluesy guitar work and rollicking basslines, these songs’ heads are in the clouds. The otherworldly vibe on "Star 129" and "Star 131" are the most direct examples of a dreamer manifesting the fantastic.

If the first three songs establish Night Control’s knack of pop music, the final three reflect where he thinks we’ll all be tomorrow. Closer "For the Lanes" jumps and jives its way across eight minutes, pushing the album’s earlier structures to the limit. Ghostly church organs, wildman blues guitar riffs, and a clamorous percussion section that sounds like furniture tumbling down a flight of stairs fade in and out of prayer-like drone.

Death Control is too ephemeral, too impermanent to qualify as a classic (in the relative sense, of course). It’s more a document for posterity. This record, culled from Smith’s vault of home recordings, is not the definitive Night Control album, but rather the definition of who Night Control is today. Smith’s real potential lies in what he has to offer come tomorrow.

By Evan Hanlon

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