Review Summary: "With no chains on my heart, it's easy to be free"
It is important for me to impress upon you, dear reader, that Merchandise is a fu
band. The former trio, now quartet with the addition of drummer Elsner Nino, of Shoxx fame, is the the next great hope for American post-punk (even though it's hard to classify this band with a single genre). This was evidenced by last year's stellar Children Of Desire
LP, which saw the band shift it's sound away from the haphazard, oftentimes schizophrenic sonic palette of previous entries in their catalog, to a focused, altogether tauter affair. Vocalist Carson Cox has solidified his place as one of alternative music's most talented frontmen, his vivacious croon half Morrissey drone and half Springsteen bark- but all parts wondrous on the ears- has helped make the band underground pop darlings. And if you've been lucky enough to catch their live show, Cox performs with such organic presence that his voice couldn't fit the music his band is playing any better than it already does. The synergy is remarkable.
On Totale Nite
, Merchandise's newest EP, this is no less true. Cox places himself firmly front and center on the record, which serves as the perfect trap to ensnare listeners into the oftentimes complex yet wholly simple musicianship backing him up. However, Cox is not the first thing you'll hear on the album. That honor goes to a wave of distortion-drenched feedback followed swiftly by a harmonica on "Who Are You?" The song sets the visceral tone for the album, and segues perfectly into the lead single, "Anxiety's Door." "Anxiety's Door" examines Cox as he wanders the street of Tampa, Florida, "drinking" the "perfumed air." The song is balanced perfectly around around an earworm, upbeat guitar riff that sounds in stark contrast to the song's relatively gloomy lyrics.
Perhaps no better example of Merchandise's musical prowess is the eponymous title track of the EP. "Totale Nite" brings together everything their is to love about the album and smears it all onto a canvas of sound. There's a guitar riff that doesn't sound quite
right, booming digital drum fills (Nino didn't play on this album; the percussion, as with prior Merchandise releases, comes from a drum machine), thunderous bass that lumbers along and rich, shimmering synth lines. "Totale Nite" is everything there is to love about Merchandise in one, 9+ minute package.
Merchandise is the kind of band that eschews a conventional approach to writing music. "Genres are not for us" Cox once stated in a 2011 interview. This is precisely what makes them such an important band in the scope of stagnant alternative music that finds bands adopting flavor-of-the-month styles of songwriting. This is obviously not the way Merchandise does things, which should be blatantly obvious to anyone who has heard more than one of their albums. “I’m gonna plant myself in the sun/Just to be free from all you motherfuckers” Cox laments on "I'll Be Gone." Separation is obviously not the anxiety preached about on "Anxiety's Door," or Totale Nite
as a whole. As the band continues to distance itself from the trappings of modern music, it becomes a more and more unique entity. This is something that should be celebrated, and Merchandise's recent success points that the band is headed in the right direction, and will continue to do so without retread.