Controlling Crowds is the sixth studio album of the British trip-hop progressive / alternative group Archive which was released worldwide on March 30, 2009.
The album is divided into three different parts and the group originally wanted to also include a fourth part, which was later released as “Controlling Crowds – Part IV” on October 19 of the same year.
As the album is divided into parts by Archive, it is arguable they tried to tell a story with the album. The name of the album, the lyrical content and the music, all invoke a feeling of an Orwellian dictator society. The first song already starts with a very repetitive synth that feels just a little uneasy yet mesmerising.
Repetition is actually a fairly important tool, which Archive employs in many of their tracks, to further advance the Orwellian theme. In the song Bullets, during the final parts of the song, the lyrics start repeating the words “personal responsibility”, yet after a while the lyrics have changed to “personal response insanity”. In the track “Dangervisit”, while the background vocals repeat “Feel, trust, obey”, the main vocalist starts singing “swing your love, swing your love, swing your love, swing it” which changes into “sleep along” (sounds like a play on the classic remark “wake up sheeple!”, whenever conspiracy theories are talked about). The changes were so subtle, that they escaped me during my first listens.
Musically, Controlling Crowds ranges from progressive rock tracks to your stereotypical hip-hop background tracks to ambient ballads. It is definitely not an easy to listen album, as it requires you to pay attention to really appreciate and notice the changes and additions to the mood and ambience the group tries to make. This is further made more difficult by the fact that the average track length is about six minutes (ranging from 3.5 minutes up to 10 minutes) and many tracks employ musical repetition to build said atmosphere and to hide the changes made to it. This means, that while listening to the tracks as a background music while walking or driving, it is hard to appreciate them all, yet some songs have a haunting enough theme to still be stuck in your head long after you have stopped listening.