When Robin Williams died, there was a huge outpouring of tributes to the late comedian. These homages would sometimes have retelling of his jokes or mimicking of his frenetic delivery style. Only rarely would the person paying the tribute be able to capture the essence of the troubled comedian, and in those cases it was probably because they themselves had similar attributes to Mr. Williams, whether it was his wacky poignant humour or his incredibly generous heart. Merchandise are a band from Tampa, Florida that sound like they should be from Manchester, England. In this day and age labels are becoming more ambiguous, and even though Merchandise sound like a band paying homage to Morrissey and late 80’s alt-rock bands, their latest album, After the End, will make you a believer that they are not pretenders because they do have similar attributes and truly embody the heart of that time.
After the End is the type of album that you can slip into easily, especially if you have any affinity for late-80’s alt-rock. There’s something about the soft and majestic acoustic guitar driven opener “Corridor”, that gently brings you into their world that will be deftly decorated with synths and just a hint of 60’s folk rock. “Enemy” is the big rocker of the album, but in the R.E.M. laid back type of way where you really settle into Carson Cox’s baritone lyrics. While the songs throughout the album are simple, they are layered intelligently with multiple instruments and effects to give it a distinct and intriguing sound. The drums have a lot of reverb on them which gives the songs a big and thumping drive, and they are coupled with laid back acoustic riffs and 80’s synthesizers which is demonstrated on “True Monument” and “Green Lady”. “Life Outside the Mirror” is a very Springsteen-type acoustic opus, it’s not the most memorable, but certainly works in the middle of the album. “Telephone” is a straight up 80’s-Morrissey track with fun jiggy riff paired with the almost cliched “waiting on your call” lyrics, but it’s so spot on that it’s hard not to love it. “Little Killer” brings back a rocking riff, which embodies their big and lazy motif.
“Looking Glass Waltz” is just the type of song that came from college alt-rock bands in the 80’s that pondered their own existence while finding their way in their 20’s, which is a feeling that never really leaves any of us. The lyrics “Here comes a new consciousness” could either be reflective of the self or society as a whole. “After the End” is my favourite track on the album, maybe because it takes the best of the Depeche Mode’s slow and big sound, and let Cox’s baritone resonate. “Exile and Ego” leaves us with a simple ballad, which is exactly the way albums like this should end.
A lot of the bands that were big in the college alt-rock scene are not really in vogue anymore, even Morrissey’s solo work, so the sound Merchandise is derived from actually seems fresh. They’re not the type of band to headline rock festivals, but they could headline a soundtrack to the next film that wants to embody the spirit of John Hughes. People may see certain art as being derivative of another, but when bands like Merchandise come along, you see how their sound comes organically and not because of emulation.
– Michael Unger