[sic] Magazine

Merchandise – After The End

Hardcore upstarts aren’t supposed to make superior 80s indie-rock that echoes to the sound of Morrissey and the Bunnymen, but Merchandise’s excellent Totale Night did just that. Coming at it from a unique angle, it was anything but tepid hero worship and David Vassalotti and Patrick Brady’s sparkling guitar work proved it. Without their dark jangle, tracks like “Anxiety’s Door” would still have frontman Carson Cox’s wonderfully miserable croon, but it was their fretwork that really joined the dots.

After The End is a new chapter though, one for which Cox has stated that “we’re going to re-make ourselves as a pop band”. First things first, After The End isn’t a pop record, but it is Merchandise’s most straightforward and uncluttered set of songs to date. So, in the main, it’s out with the fuzz and experimentation, the band overseeing ten firework-free statements in their place. The melodic “True Monument” sighs, for example, with the same heavy heart as The National. There are flickers of heartland rock in the guitars, “Enemy” dressing up its open spaces in the style of Michael Stipe.

That pop band Cox claims he’s fronting makes an appearance on “Telephone” for a New Wave number that flexes a dirty bass riff into a funky groove. The bland single however, “Little Killer”, seems intent on watering down The Cure to some lowest common denominator, no matter how much jangle Vassalotti throws at its tail end. That same brand of atmospheric misanthropy does come together briefly during the title track, but meanders aimlessly elsewhere during its excessive 7-minute running time, the wry lyric “the dark side of the room” raising a smile moments earlier as part of glacial plodder “Looking Glass Waltz”.

Cox and co. have a patient and pleasant listen on their hands here, but one that’s far from thrilling because it’s all so passive. From the ambient instrumental that opens the album to its blissful closer Merchandise have lost all sense of urgency and with it the punch they once had. The band’s hardcore upbringing and Cox’s experiments with suffocating shoegaze as Blonde God are well documented. Maybe the best way of finding a way forward is by looking backwards?

Best track: “True Monument”

~After The End is released August 25th 2014 via 4AD.~