New York City is a town filled with contradictions, all piled up on top of each other: it’s sexy and ugly, classy and seedy, rich as hell and dead broke, all at the same time. Times Square is the most well-lit place in the city, but it’s also the creepiest place in town with the most naked people. Williamsburg is an artists’ neighborhood, but no working artist can afford to live there anymore. Penn Station, the city’s welcome mat, is literally the grossest place in America. It’s a messy, chaotic, intoxicating mix, and the Brooklyn-based band Controller has been mainlining it into smart, gritty, dancy rock and roll songs that embrace the dark side of modern life in the city since its members first moved to town.

Led by charismatic frontman Jonathan Bellinger (Vocals, Guitar) and including Josh Shabtai (Guitar), Brian Dell (Bass), Kyle Monson. (Synths) and Keith Gordon (Drums), Controller has had a front row seat for the recent transformation of the city, and their sound has also “gentrified” over the years. The band began inadvertently in the East Village, as a series of late night songwriting sessions in the early 2000s between Bellinger and Shabtai. Just using acoustic guitars, they wrote a batch of weird, 8 minute minute freak-folk songs that never saw the light of day. Nearly 10 years, a few boring jobs and a slew of transformative life experiences later, they randomly got together to play again and were surprised when they quickly wrote a handful of hard-hitting, danceable rock songs that retained the weirdness of those early experimentations.

Those first three songs became their self-titled debut Controller EP (2012), which debuted to a brilliant reception from tastemakers like Billboard and MTV, and led to bookings at NYC’s premiere venues like Mercury Lounge and Rough Trade. In Bellinger’s words, making that first record was “so exciting, but we had no fucking idea what we were doing.” It was their blend of naivete, hilarious overconfidence and wry introspection that connected with audiences, and it didn’t hurt that the songs were easy to dance to.

The band’s follow up EP, No Future, builds on the charm and accessibility of its predecessor while expanding into a much larger soundscape, mashing up a diverse array of influences like Black Sabbath, Poison, Depeche Mode and Roybn into a surprising mix of grinding, lo-fi guitars and glittering pop textures with irresistible beats.

Sonically, the band set out to make the “scuzziest, sleaziest sounding pop record possible,” and looked to dark 80’s electronica, hair metal and late 70s punk for inspiration. Bellinger describes “Flame,” the EP’s first single, as sounding like “a cover of Don Henley’s Boys of Summer recorded in a Port Authority men’s room.” Recorded with Danny Kalb (Beck, Dust Brothers, Dreamers) at Room 17 Studios in Bushwick, the five tracks that made the final cut were whittled down from a monstrous 40 demos, and make no effort to hide the band’s aspirations to be a very big deal.

Conceptually, the record explores the band’s first few years in NYC living on the Lower East Side, and what it’s like trying to figure things out when everything is possible but you’re too broke to do any of it. Reflecting on the late nights, bad relationships, strange characters and questionable decisions that defined coming of age in NYC, the songs on the record are both defiant and disenchanted, romantic and jaded, embracing and reflecting the beautiful contradictions that run through the city they call home.

Controller is extremely ambitious and craft great pop songs. While it shares a lot of the sensibilities associated with the current wave of music coming out of Brooklyn, the No Future EP will represent the very special moment for the band where we see them transition from one of the most buzzed about bands in New York to a more national stage. Make sure to get in early on the No Future EP this fall before it undoubtedly ends up on everybody’s “Best of 2015” lists.

Controller’s angular dance rock has us yearning for that faraway time when people actually lost their cool and danced to rock n’ roll.
— MTV Buzzworthy
These tunes are all keepers, confidently guitar-driven singalongs, like lead track “Kicking and Screaming,” that recall radio staples by bands like Weezer and The Killers.
— Billboard Magazine
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These songs have gotten into my head completely. Controller makes catchy, sing-a-long-able songs and they make me happy. Their EP has probably been one of my favourite releases thus far this year.
— Louder Than War
Controller is the type of act that could roll into any club and get the people moving.
— SF Critic
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