Review Summary: The musical equivalent of waking up, looking in the mirror, and asking "What happened?"
Where are you in life? Confused? Disjointed? Stoned? Sad? Lost? A needle drops, feedback looms, and a man starts crooning. And there you are. You don’t know where “there” is, but it feels alright.
Thus begins (Sad Songs) In the Dark
. An ambling freeway of noise, confusion, and pop sensibilities. It’s odd. The pop sensibilities are there and songs like “I Locked the Door” showcase them in a perfect display of what Merchandise could be, if they wanted to be a pop band, but ultimately each song hinges on vocalist Carson Cox’s wailing croons. Opening track “Loss” consists solely of a wall of feedback, tape hiss, Cox’s vocals, and towards the end, a rising scale of synthesizers, yet in practice it’s a wildly cohesive and emotional track that allows you to slip into the drugged and dazed world of Merchandise.
By the time “I Locked the Door” opens, you’re hooked. The drums awkwardly pick up, the guitar squeals and wails back and forth, and the bass pumps along in a way that makes the room dance in front of you. Cox’s register hits all the disastrous anxious lows of a man who’s given up, but also sweetly falsettos to a place of longing, desire, and hope. As the song chugs along and quickly falls apart to an abrupt end, the denouement of the trip comes with “Foolish”.
“Foolish” sluggishly scrapes along with the help of a simple slowed down drum beat, walls of feedback, and of course, Cox’s vocals, this time slightly distorted whether by design or the nature of lo-fi recording. The song’s hazy atmosphere resemble all the best parts of remembering a dream but harshly realizing it ultimately amounts to little, than perhaps a new goal. All of a sudden, the song stops and holds for a moment, as you drift back hoping to find that place again, and then quickly jumps into a resounding guitar solo that wouldn’t be out of place in an 80s hair metal show.
The album continues this trajectory, of unfounded highs and crushing lows. Indefinable by genres, the album sits somewhere between goth, shoegaze, noise, lo-fi, and pop. Guitarist/keyboardist Dave Vassilotti, of Cult Ritual and Neon Blud “fame” uses his background in refashioning hardcore and noise pop to add a contextual layer of pop sensibilities where they have no place, but are happily welcomed.
(Strange Songs) In the Dark
is a masterpiece of disjointed pop, loss, misery and desire. I’ve heard that heroin mimics all of the neurological associations of love, and in that way, Merchandise is it’s musical equivalent. All of the soaring highs and hopeless lows of losing yourself in someone else’s dimples, hair brushed to one side, lips quietly quivering, only to realize you don’t exist.