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Night Control - Life Control

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Artist: Night Control

Album: Life Control

Label: Kill Shaman

Review date: Jan. 29, 2010

Last year, I wrote that Night Control’s debut Death Control was "not the definitive Night Control album, but rather the definition of who Night Control is today. [Christopher Curtis] Smith’s real potential lies in what he has to offer come tomorrow." Now that tomorrow’s come, I’m willing to say that Life Control hasn’t made a liar out of me. Smith has ridden out his time at the peak of the one-man-wonder wave and moved past the onanism that marks the output of so many bloggable bands. While some in his cohort either abandoned their projects or crashed and burned due to a busy schedules of bar fights, glue-huffing, and vanity label signings, Night Control took that time to figure out how to make his ephemera last.

If Death Control was made up of 10 years worth of Smith’s rough drafts, Life Control is the first fully realized Night Control document. The disparate sonic peculiarities that marked early songs are woven into Kid A textures that sometimes cling to normal pop hooks and other times take center stage, as they do on "Take Apart" and "Break Sculpt," respectively. The Radiohead analogy suits Night Control well: Hail to the Thief has (for better or worse) been considered the somewhat scattered and raw material of a circuitous career, while In Rainbows forged those pieces into a full circle.

Life Control brings similar coherence without smoothing out the rough patches too much. Before being reshaped into the more pliable and polished "Break Sculpt," Smith lets the constituent parts run wild and crash into each other on "Sculpt." The song revels in the mess it makes from the collisions of Big Black drums, Bends-era guitar runs, and contemporary reverb tendencies.

A steady songwriting hand leaves its marks all over openers “CS” and “There’s a Chance”—which leaves Smith with a predicament midway through the record. Having shown what he’s made of, he can no longer be afforded the aimless noodling or obfuscating noise that serve as the artsy copout du jour. “Fore” and “Master Hiss” are a pair of pointless drones that almost stall things entirely.

If anything, Smith needs to trust his knack for hooks a little bit more. The best song here is a Lou Reed 2.0 gem called "The Word," a single riff that barely lasts a minute. Kind of how Kurt Vile does on "Overnite Religion." But whereas that self-proclaimed constant hitmaker rides the loop until it congeals into something completely self-contained, Smith skips back on the refrain a handful of times before letting the air all the way out. No endstop, just an ellipsis. "The word is a sentence," he incants.

What that means I’m not quite sure, and something I’d rather not philosophize over for everyone’s sake. What I can say, though, is that even when being opaque, Smith is at his best when he’s saying something. Leaving it open-ended just invites further speculation about Night Control’s future—which is starting to look definitively good.

By Evan Hanlon

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