I first became aware of Merchandise at the beginning of last year when a friend invited me to see them live at a Stereogum party, and hipped me to the fact that all of their early recordings are available for free on their website, including their critically acclaimed (and most excellent) 2012 EP “Children of Desire“.
I fell deeply in love with those recordings, listening over and over to Desire’s centerpiece and stand out track, “Become What You Are“.
Their live performance, and backstory impressed me even further.
They came up through a fiercely D.I.Y. Tampa Bay punk scene where most shows were played in either one of two storage spaces located in the same building.
But Merchandise always had more of an 80s U.K. indie underground flavor, a fact that they’ve acknowledged made them nervous to share their music at first.
The band members all got their start in various hardcore bands around the scene, and lead singer Carson Cox especially has made note of the time it took for him to develop the confidence needed to share Merchandise with an existing fan base that might dismiss the sound outright for not being hardcore.
Still, in true punk rock fashion they arrived at that sound by playing noise pop experiments on cheap instruments that were constantly on the verge of falling apart, and channeling their shared love of Can, Jandek, Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead and Miles Davis into something that is likely to first call to mind The Smiths, mostly due to Cox’s unintentionally Morrissey-esque vocals.
In a 2012 interview with Pitchfork, Cox talks about learning to sing from hearing his mom sing to him as a child and many repeat viewings of Rodgers and Hammerstein movie musicals with his older sister; noting “everybody says I sound like some English guy. I think I just sound like my mom when she’s singing to me.”
He also notes that anything people picked up on in those early records that sounds shoegaze-y can be attributed to their deep hero worship of Miles Davis.
I’ve been obsessed lately with “Enemy“, the second single from Merchandise’s forthcoming full length “After the End“ (set for release on August 26th via 4AD).
They’ve been referring to last year’s “Total Nite“ EP as “the end” of the first phase of their life as a band, like the last chapter of a book.
Thus “After the End“ sees them writing the first chapter of an entirely new book, one that remakes them as a pop band, albeit one with “a twisted reality.”
I’ve listened to both “Enemy” and the new album’s first single “Little Killer” several times now, and they’re not kidding.
Both singles give me the feeling of peak era Echo & the Bunnymen, if they’ll forgive the further comparisons to English dudes.
But on “Enemy” especially, I care way less about any past music that could draw a comparison, and way more about the palpable energy of a still relatively young band tackling this new moment with such grace, swagger, and undeniable song craft.
It’s a captivating new chapter indeed, and one that I can’t wait to experience in it’s entirety.
Merchandise will play the Echoplex on Saturday September 27th. Tickets are available here.