Release Date: Apr 2, 2013
Record label: Night People
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Merchandise aren't the first band to draw inspiration from 1980s mope rock, but their background in the Tampa, Fla., hardcore and DIY community has given them an edge on your average gang of 20-something miserablists. The trio’s debut album, (Strange Songs) In the Dark, and its follow-up, Children of Desire, reproduced sounds of melancholy mainstays like the Cure and New Order on a basement punk’s budget. Cheeseball drum machines battered out metronomic rhythms and shimmering guitar hooks blurred into swampy, dub-inspired textures.
While its '90s incarnation reduced it to a cartoon caricature of sad kids in makeup and black trench coats, goth spent its first decade as a major mainstream tributary. The guys in Merchandise know this, and mine many of that era's forgotten heroes (Siouxsie Sioux, the Sisters of Mercy) for sonic inspiration without the mopey theatrics that made the genre a four-letter word. Totale Nite maintains early goth's mercurial aesthetic and might as well be a direct sequel to the band's last record, Children of Desire — there are no major sonic shifts or lyrical breakthroughs that suggest they're working away from their initial aural template.
More than five years removed from their humble origins as just another hardcore band out of West Florida, Merchandise have transcended their ho-hum punk roots to branch out into more ambitious musical arenas. The tempos have slowed and the sounds have taken on new life, somewhere between the Smiths’ lush guitar pop and the crankier, shoegazed sounds of The Jesus and Mary Chain. The band did a nice job of reworking those well-regarded sounds into its own design on 2010’s Children of Desire, and new release Totale Nite, composed of only five tracks, takes small steps in the same direction, furthering the band’s brooding musical trip.
A Rush of Blood, wherein the pursuit of things I love becomes a stress creating end unto itself, is a 15-minute video that features a series of trippy atmospheric instrumentals accompanied by snippets of film segments that share a Lynchian obsession with the bizarreness and perversity that hides behind the banal facades of everyday life. It’s the kind of thing that most art gallery patrons would nod politely at and profess respect for but few would truly appreciate. Such a film might seem like an oddly affected way to promote the second album of a former hardcore punk band from Tampa but that exactly what Merchandise did.
The first time I’d heard of Merchandise was the day after a poorly-flyered show held in the dingy, tagged-up back room of a neighborhood dive. A friend asked if I’d gone, and in reply, I admitted to knowing nothing about them. “They sound like Morrissey burning in hell,” he told me. Though a little too on-the-nose, it’s a description that has nevertheless stuck with me since.
When I think of Florida, I think of orange juice, palm trees and white sandy beaches. But Tampa band Merchandise’s new LP, Totale Nite, is more like whiskey, oak trees and acres of ominous forests. While only five songs long, the LP stretches out over 33 minutes and features elements ranging from acoustic and electric guitars to harmonicas and bashing drums.