merchandise

This being a print publication, I haven’t got as much room as I’d like to talk about ‘After the End’, so rather than discuss the apparent fluidity of the Merchandise lineup, their denouncing of the Tampa hardcore scene that birthed them or speculate as to what it was about previous mini album ‘Totale Nite’ that captured the imagination of the popular press, I’ll instead jump straight into an appraisal of the record at hand. Merchandise are on 4AD now. These are the indie big leagues, so there’s an expectation that, sonically speaking, they’ll respond in kind.

Sure enough, ‘After the End’ isn’t just considerably crisper than the releases that have preceded it; it’s a fair bit more urgent, too. Opener ‘Corridor’, admittedly, represents a gentle introduction – an acoustic guitar-driven instrumental that shimmers away, with only the odd burst of ominous percussion to puncture the haze – but thereafter, there’s a palpable sense of boldness in terms of the record’s progression from the mope rock that’s gone before. Suddenly, we’re firmly into retro pop territory. ‘Enemy’ is a case in point – Carson Cox’s lackadaisical vocal floats over decidedly nineties, La’s-esque acoustic guitars, rather than early Morrissey electrical swoon.

It’s a recurring change for the Floridian group, and irrespective of how the band preceded ‘After The End’, there’s no denying that it has a very clear sonic identity of its own amongst the burgeoning Merchandise catalogue. ‘Little Killer’ is one of a few tracks that’s driven primarily by very eighties guitar tones. You can clearly hear The Cure and The Smiths in them (‘Green Lady’ and ‘True Monument’, too), and neat, understated vocal turns on Cox’s part. Elsewhere, there’s experimentation. ‘Life Outside the Mirror’ goes without percussion, instead backed by a subtle synth line and washed-out acoustic guitar, whilst ‘Looking Glass Waltz’ takes almost the opposite stance – there’s bursts of eccentric, off-beat drumming, with a gentle, faux-anthemic organ taking the listener the rest of the way.

In terms of stepping away from the frenetically paced, often chaotic material of old, ‘After the End’ ticks most of the boxes; the slow burn of the title track, with plucked electric guitar simmering over a casually constructed soundscape, is probably the most convincing example. As pop throwbacks go, in fact, it’s a fine record. My only concern, though, is that Merchandise might very well have shed a little too much of their character in making it. That was probably what made them so interesting in the first place.

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