Merchandise - After the End

Merchandise abandon their post-punk roots to showcase their blissful pop-rock sensibilities.

Additional Info

6.8

ALBUM: After the End

ARTIST: Merchandise

2014

Alternative

For the better part of two years Merchandise were one of the hottest commodities in independent music. Shrugging offers from any and every worthwhile label, before finally shacking up with legendary 4AD, which foreshadowed an unenviable shift to the tame. However, no one could have predicted the Florida band bearing the name of a Fugazi track, grass-fed on hometown hardcore could make this kind of a leap. Good news is it works.

On “After the End,” Merchandise do not attempt to rediscover their punk aesthetic or try to maintain their DIY card. For all intents and purposes they are a different band now than their formative days. Their 2012 album Children of Desire saw Merchandise exchanging their punk aesthetic for lusher pastures. They’ve referred to After the End as a “formal pop record,” and it recalls layered instrumentation of Boxer era the National, with frontman Carson Cox plays a convincing Matt Berninger. Merchandise draw heavily from 80s synth-pop on After the End. Particularly Echo and the Bunnymen, New Order and the intro to the track “Enemy” sounds like it was pulled from a Duran Duran B-side. Producer Gareth Jones, who has crafted tracks for Depeche Mode and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, provides some punch to many of the songs. Making even some of them unabashedly dancey. Never more so than “Green Lady” which features a dynamic bassline with downright potent percussion. Cox sounds like Tunnel of Love era Bruce Springsteen, crooning of leaving everything he’s even known in the rear view.

Merchandise don’t hesitate to unleash their new sound, throwing you in the deep end with “True Monument.” “True Monument” is Merchandise taking their new sound out for a spin with the dealer plates still on. Wearing their influences on their sleeve, Merchandise craft a wispy ballad of uncaged love to great success. The strength of After the End lies in the album’s arrangement. If you’ve listened to enough music, you know how something as simple as the order of the tracks can give the individual tracks solidarity, or contrarily make the listener feel like they are jamming puzzle pieces together. Merchandise and Jones do a fantastic job giving similar songs their breathing space and while maintaining cohesion over the album’s 44 minutes.

After the End is Merchandise’s stab at something anthemic.. They approach 80’s art-pop with an aura of Florida cool, an almost unwarranted confidence that only helps the listener build trust in handing over the reigns. Many of the songs on After the End tend to sprawl. Building upon a chord progression in the early stages of the song with no clear intention of closure. This is a theme common in some of the highly praised albums this year (ie. “Lost in The Dream” and “Atlas”) but when used on the After the End’s title track can leave the listener bloated with more than enough to be desired. “Life Outside the Mirror” is tailor-made set closer at a festival main stage. The cavalry of soaring synths that closes the track is a bright moment for the album and ushers in Cox’s self-imposed exile from molding himself from others. “Little Killers” is a silky-smooth burner with jangly guitars Albert Hammond Jr. would be proud of. Cox’s lyrics paint age-old scene of a woman and a desperate man clinging on to their youth with white knuckles.

Diving in to this record after only hearing their early work can be like walking inside on a bright summer day. You’re trying to get your bearings and feeling around for a trail or trace of what we remember. Merchandise have delivered 80’s era art-pop without leaving you feeling dusty and reminding you just how much you loved “Disingeneration.” Merchandise approach this galvanizing experiment with such swagger the listener is given no choice but to respect them. They have put this album out as a proclamation of leaving their past behind. Not every band could make this kind of a change and make a record this good. Most bands would not even take the leap. If anything, Merchandise have given us a tiny look into their promising future while they reminisce about their past.

“I’m through with begging for approval, now I’m asking to be free.”

1. Corridor
An entirely instrumental track that provides the lay of the land for what you can expect on “After The End.” A lush combination of finger plucking guitars and chimes provides the listener an opportunity to cleanse their pallet from Merchandise’s previous output. The song takes it’s time getting through its 2:47 second runtime, which could bother a few who just want to get the album started. Ultimately the meditative qualities of the track outweigh its somewhat drawn-out runtime. It’s pretty, unassuming and gives you a taste of what you are about to experience. What else can you hope for in an introduction?6.0
2. Enemy
A glitzy pop song fit for a Duran Duran album. Cox rides the tracks smooth melody to great success. This track is one of the best on the album, conjuring images of the summertime and living for the day. “What if I don’t want to pray, to your god everyday? I just want to sing for myself, this way.”8.0
3. True Monument
The tried and true ballad of the album. Being one of the slower song on After the End, it provides a nice transition from the quick and dancey “Enemy.” Cox tells the story of lost love and disillusionment. “At night she wanders about the jail cell, her refusal’s all too much to bear. The brilliance and light are left intangible, language is lost now I just stare and stare and stare and stare.” Cox’s lyrics on this track are almost abstract to a fault, clashing with the straightforward instrumentation.6.0
4. Green Lady
Easily has the most infectious groove on the entire LP. The woodblock percussion and the synths give the song a texture unlike any other on the album. “Green Lady” also has Cox penning the best quatrain on all of After the End. Patience left you in the ocean, reason left you at sea. I’m through with begging for approval, now I’m asking to be free. “Green Lady” embodies everything Merchandise are going for on this album. Biting lyrics, with infectious 80s dance hooks for the twenty-first century. It’s all here and in full force on “Green Lady”.9.0
5. Life Outside the Mirror
On “Life Outside the Mirror” Merchandise create a song with 80,000 seat areas on their mind and succeed. The echoing vocals give the impression you are listening to the song from the nosebleeds, and Cox’s vocals on the track sound like he’s sang this song hundreds of times before. Here Merchandise greatly utilizes the space between the notes letting Cox take the lead and carry the track to build to a gorgeous solo to end the track.8.0
6. Telephone
Merchandise dips into cliché on “Telephone” with a subject matter that would seem more appropriate for a doo-wop song. Providing some of the more bland lyrics on the on all of the album. “Don’t you understand, baby I’m your man and you’re my girl. But I’m stuck here on the wrong side of the world.” The hook being about waiting by the telephone is a little mind numbing and the song doesn’t really improve. It’s the most forgettable song on the album.4.0
7. Little Killer
“Little Killer” is a surprising change of pace for Merchandise. Giving them an opportunity to showcase some of there tight musicianship. With some guitars throughout the track that sound like Real Estate. Yes a former post-punk band doing their best Real Estate impression. Merchandise effortlessly skates through the song. Providing some of the best toe-tapping moments on the entire LP.7.0
8. Looking Glass Waltz
“Looking Glass Waltz” follows in some of the same footsteps as “Life Outside the Mirror.” Cox hoping to escape from the pressures of expectation behind a wall of lush instrumentation. “Won’t someone help me, I’m too young to feel this old. But the feeling goes.” Those are the last words Cox sings on the track. Making way the instrumental outro, a funeral precession for the old Carson Cox and his self-image.7.0
9. After the End
At 6:55 “After the End” is the longest song on the entire LP and this is where the album beings to slog. Immediately coming off a very similar track in “Looking Glass Waltz,” “After the End” struggles to establish its own identity. Playing third-wheel to the other ballads on the record. “After the End” lacks personality and does not have the grandiosity to excite the listener. Cox channels his inner Mark Hollis on this track inciting an interesting comparison to Talk Talk. “After the End” on its own however, struggles to carve its own path.5.0
10. Exile and Ego
On “Exile and Ego” Cox has the cathartic moment the album had built up to. He admits he’s lost and wont try convince himself otherwise. “But I ain’t no cowboy, I got no six gun.” Cautious optimism would sum up this track. Cox takes a hard look at some of his demons and lets them live, seeing as they’ve gotten him this far. “Exile and Ego” leave the listener with plenty of questions to grapple with. The quiet strumming low in the mix let Cox guide the listener through these tough concepts. Problem is, he gives the listener more questions than answers.8.0
Written by Zach Newcastle
Contributing Writer
A fourth-year print journalism major at the University of South Carolina. You can probably find him buried in the $2 bin at the local record store or spinning jamz at USC's radio station WUSC.

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