Merchandise open their new album, After The End, with 'Corridor' - a slow scintillating burner that shows the grand beauty of what they can do; slowly lulling you into their wallflower world, before 'Enemy' churns things up and sends you to choppier waters with Carson's salty vocals. His voice a nonchalant passerby in the parade of surrounding instrumentation. The album title becoming a manifesto and promise for the continual rebirth of one of the moments most interesting bands.
Where Merchandise were before, the 'underground stalwarts', the 'kids most likely to', the 'incredibly-cool-but-under-appreciated-and-under-heard-of-kings-of-weird', they're now transcending to become mainstays of a scene which their name vehemently pits them against. With songs like 'True Monument' evoking The National and that glockenspiel clack on 'Green Lady' transporting you to an island paradise complete with gaudy floral shirt, it's no wonder the band have outgrown their shoes. For lack of a better phrase they're 'pulling a Shins' on us. While The Shins used Zach Braff and stole all of Len's sunshine to quietly and unassumingly lodge themselves in the brain of every kid wearing Converse this side of the galaxy, it's hard to predict just exactly who's listening to Merchandise now. The hardcore kids who were there at the start are likely fed up of the seven minute Miles Davis inspired guitar wangling acid-jazz freak-outs that started to edge in on the ever poppier Children of Desire and took control on Total Nite, so for them to now come out with this was, while somewhat on the cards, surprising.
This is a pop record. By all accounts it's a slightly off-beat one, but it's unashamedly pop and you get the feeling that Carson Cox could care less who his fans are (or were) as his Echo and the Bunnymen baritone rumbles through the chipper guitar lines and classic drum beats. They've still got the 'out there' harmonic moments that call to mind Talk Talk, but this is as accessible an album as they come. Just listen to the start of 'Green Lady' - its phenomenal. Steeped in the dry ice of an 80s prom, it chimes in and croons at you from under a spotlight; you can basically hear the shoulder pads. And that riff - God, that riff; it's orgasmic. If this song isn't every high school kids make-out jam then kids just aren't doing it right.
'Telephone' is a bitter pop classic full of upbeat melodies and jangly guitar hooks to disguise the jaded lonely lyrics underneath. It shows Cox for the Morrissey alike he is, such effective simplicity; "Baby you're so mean and I'm against your philosophy, but I hesitate." Between him and the 12 string guitar moments of David Vassalotti, it's like listening to Morrissey and Marr with less of a penchant for gladiola twirling sass. The one two of this with 'Little Killer' is undeniably luscious. As a first single, 'Little Killer' is a firecracker of a song with its buzzy beach vibes, it's 'summer in Brooklyn' kinda feel and it's a smouldering sliver of scientifically accurate space age noise pop, which is only made better by the unearthly bleeps traversing into 'Looking Glass Waltz'.
Cox has such command in his voice - it's an unimposing timbre that's rare in indie bands. He possesses the same delicate trained air that makes Antony Hegarty so haunting and the outro of 'Exile and Ego' is a beautiful example of just how evocative a pop song can be. This moody edge is in large part thanks to producer Gareth Jones who's worked with bands like Depeche Mode and Erasure - clear influences here. This was self-recorded in the bands Tampa house, but you'd never tell by the sheen of it. It's not startlingly, fresh, never-been-heard-before stuff, but it's not a rehash of the same simpering, smug indie pop we've been hearing all millennia either.
Whatever it is, one thing's for sure - Merchandise are doing it their way, in their time, and there's few bands I'm looking forward to seeing where they go next quite as much as them.
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