Tampa, Florida’s Merchandise are mysterious fuckers. A search for the band’s name on Google finds random images of apparel and websites for customer service companies. This may be intentional; “We are sort of sidestepping the music industry, and we have been for years now,” says Carson Cox, lead singer and songwriter.
Despite their intentions, the three piece’s chaotic post-punk guitar noise has garnered great attention, with 2012’s Children of Desire (Kartoga Works) earning thumbs-up from Pitchfork, SPIN, and NME. Conjuring Psychocandy noise pop and the post-hardcore of Unwound with a singer who seems to channel the pain and crooning tenor of Morrissey, Ian Curtis, or Pere Ubu’s David Thomas, Merchandise have carved out a unique sound on their previous releases.
Totale Nite, a new five-song LP released on Night People, sees the Merch boys stripping away some of the racket and sounding a bit more like The Cult or Echo & the Bunnymen this time around. Unfortunately, this change doesn’t quite work. Typically, Merchandise tunes are so heavily steeped in guitar noise that Cox’s vocals fade to the background, creating a sense of ambient space between the artist and the listener while still delivering amazing pop hooks. On Totale Nite, however, Cox’s vocals are pushed to the foreground, losing a bit of the warm lo-fi squall of their previous efforts.
“Anxiety’s Door,” the only standout single on the record, clocks in at just under seven minutes and could find a home on the last two LPs. A driving post-punk anthem with lyrics in Cox’s typical elliptical prose that’s just downright catchy as hell, “Anxiety’s Door” makes you wish they stuck to this formula on the rest of the record.
We’re thrown a curveball on the third track; “I’ll Be Gone” is a slow jam that could’ve appeared on the Top Gun soundtrack. This is song that is pretty difficult to swallow, with or without your ironic hat on. Notwithstanding Cox’s dropping “motherfuckers” in the lyrics, this tune is a bust.
The sheer brevity of Totale Nite seems to be the fault of the record. You’d think the band would prepare their five best songs to present a cohesive sonic narrative. Instead we are left with a collection of songs that meander with little direction and are generally underwhelming. Which begs the question: are they really sidestepping the music industry this time around or just being lazy?