One of the interesting things about bands these days are their infinite ways to be cool or unique.  You can make sounds that have never been heard before. You can write a really simple song or give songs really ornate arrangements. Or you can give provocative interviews and have a new fresh take on music or politics. It’s all cool and interesting. Tampa residents Merchandise are a band that is unique in a way few bands are: they change their sounds from album to album, so much that it’s hard to recognize them. It’s a daring move but their new release After the End makes this attitude pay off. A cursory blog search will tell you that Merchandise play an amalgamation of post-punk or shoegaze or noise pop or pretty much any confluence of notable indie offshoots that gained momentum during the 1980s, and while you certainly wouldn’t be faulted for making similar connections, something about such broad distinctions doesn’t do the band justice. This band has alternately been upper straight forward dad punk, low fi pop and now, majestic 80s alt-rock not unlike Joshua Tree-era U2 or Simple Minds.

After The End has pristine clarity of the production, less grit than any previous records but lots to latch onto. Judging by their online following, many of their original punk rock fans couldn’t stand it when on their previous release Children of Desire, Merchandise took a first step toward animated RAWK!!! I can only imagine that After the End will piss off provincial, rules-based punkers even more.

The full array of sounds on After the End  include 12-string acoustic guitars, beautiful contrapuntal piano lines, light and shimmery organs as well as purposeful “80s cliché” synths like Juno 80s using the stock sounds to perfect effect. Singer Carson Cox is an intriguing frontman and vocalist.  Alternately crooning and belting, Cox even sometime comes off as a plaintiff cheerleader or Springsteen-esque over-emoter….

Preceding single “Little Killer” is reminiscent of 80s L.A. jangle-punkers Green on Red or the Long Ryders, but with a punch of drum and emotive, gutsy rack vocal. Call it half dance rock and half sundried So Cal big rawk but make no bones about it; this is rock as pop is destined to be an indie dancefloor hit: a simple sing-along guitar riff with a huge chorus that definitely sounds great in a car. “Telephone”, is more controlled and has a slicker exterior. “Looking Glass Waltz” is an emotional ballad, organs and slam-fisted drums furthering its cause. Cox sings about a “new consciousness” as though he is a seer. The title-track is an ambitious, theatrical track that would not be out of place on an Echo and the Bunnymen record. All of this is high praise, indeed but praise well deserved.

Like the first 80s alternative major label bands from the UK, Merchandise’s new album After the End will still tug at your heartstrings, and get you singing along just like your coolest uncles did to their favorite John Hughes movies. Don’t resist the pull of the 80s.

Words: Stephe Sykes

merch cover

Artist: Merchandise
Album: After the End
Label: 4AD
Release Date: August 24, 2014