After the End – Merchandise

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b5ba2d72[1]What is most intriguing about bands like Merchandise is how their sound is always changing. The Tampa, Florida-based band has quickly transitioned from the noisy post-punk of songs like “In Nightmare Room,” off 2012’s Children of Desire, to a more refined and mainstream ‘80s or ‘90s-pop influence on their latest record, After the End; and the results are absolutely stunning.

After the End, released in August of 2014, is the first album the band has had released by record label 4AD, after self-releasing their previous two records, Children of Desire, and Total Nite. What immediately comes across with this one is the stellar songwriting ability of the group and the moving vocals of frontman Carson Cox. Drawing their influence from bands like Interpol, R.E.M., and The Cure, Merchandise imbue these tracks with great depth and instrumentation. The opening track, “Corridor,” comes through with chimes, piano, a booming bass drum, and acoustic guitar that prove polarizing: listeners will either be intrigued or be put off by the poppy new direction of the group.

“Corridor” leads into the catchy-as-hell “Enemy,” which is where the record really comes to life; Cox’s deep vocals combine perfectly with layered guitar sounds, over lines like, “what if I don’t want to pray/To your god everyday?/I just want to sing for myself/This way.” “Enemy” also happens to be one of the most fast-paced songs on After the End and after one listen its nature makes it an obvious choice as the single for the record (along with the equally catchy “Little Killer”). “Life Outside the Mirror” and “True Moment” also continue to tell impactful and personal stories, dealing with topics like “throwing age away” and how a great moment can be ruined as quickly as it can begin.

By the end of the record, Merchandise really settles into a slower pace, with a set of slower tracks: “Looking Glass Waltz,” “After the End” and “Exile and Ego.” The piano-heavy “Looking Glass Waltz” is probably the most successful of these, featuring a confessional lyric that accurately summarizes the record’s thematic anxieties: “won’t someone please help me/I’m too young to feel this old.” By this point, it’s almost as if Merchandise’s youthful energy from the beginning of the record is stripped away by the end of the release, representing the struggle of dealing with growing older and more importantly, accepting it.

While the album is very strong throughout, it does suffer a few setbacks. Most noticeably, just about every tracks ends with a fade out, giving a sense that the song is not actually over. While this lasting desire for closure does work to Merchandise’s advantage in some places, the statement would be stronger if it wasn’t used so much. And while the title track is an excellently crafted piece with beautiful piano-playing, it lacks any sort of climax and leaves a craving for something more to happen in its six-minute span.

However, don’t let these deter you from listening. When any band makes such a noticeable shift to “mature” its sound, fans will surely have a love-it-or-hate-it attitude. With After the End, that seems to be exactly what Merchandise hoped to achieve. This record is scaled-back and slow in nature, but it’s also a great collection of songs and a strong call to action: like it or not, Merchandise is not the band they once were. It is up to you to decide which side you stand on.



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