Review Summary: Steppin' out... on egg shells.
What I always found most appealing about Merchandise was their ability to have their music really jump out and catch the listener's ear. Last year’s Totale Nite
was the ideal Merchandise output with every song brimming with confidence, felt through the momentum of the music and suave, cool-guy vocals. This niche ultimately led to every song, at some point, hitting some stride of absolute brilliance and gave the listener the feeling that the band really knew what type of music they wanted to be making. It never felt like they were taking seriously major risks as far as production or composition, but they were different enough to make the confidence in their music meaningful and their cockiness warranted. Essentially, they were confident enough in their music to pull off a goddamn nine minute synth-punk song. It’s what made them fresh -- a band worth paying attention to. On After The End
, Merchandise seem to be content with taking absolutely zero risks, noticeably cheapening the nothing-to-prove veneer that they have made a career out of.
What’s most disappointing is how well set-up they seemed the months leading up to this release. Their two tracks on their 3-way USA ‘13
split had as much self-assuredness as their previous material, with “Figured Out” being possibly one of their best songs. Additionally, their first single from After The End
, “Little Killer” is pretty damn good. It was cleaner for sure, but seemed to be hinting at something greater to come. It’s certainly the high point on the album, and unfortunately is the only one that seems to really hit a stride of some sort.
It’s hard to tell what they’re going for with this album. “Life Outside the Mirror” seems to be trying to recapture the more hypnotic, drone-y songs from their early catalog, but just seems to meander for nearly five minutes. “Telephone” shows the band at their most deliberately poppy, but culminates in a song full of completely unimaginative hooks. There are not many moments interesting enough to catch the listener’s ear because everything comes off as an outright practice in mediocrity. Carson Cox’s interaction with the music feels so much like that of someone trying to fill in on a boring pop song for aging hipsters, that it would have been preferable for Merchandise to make some “what the *** where they thinking” decisions. Oddly enough, the fact that there are not many actually stupid moves made by the band seems to ultimately be to their detriment. There’s nothing actually bad about the music, it’s just so unspectacular and is missing those key, skin-raising Merchandise-moments where they let themselves peacock a bit. It’s pretty indicative of a band’s decline when they follow an album filled with 6+ minute songs of engrossing, hypnotic tunes with an album filled with 4 minute songs that seem to never end.