Merchandise – After the end (sealed green vinyl UK import)
Floridian trio Merchandise establish an increasingly familiar pattern of self-reinvention on After the End, their third album and first for influential U.K. tastemakers 4AD. The cool, noisy post-punk of their last offering, 2013’s Total Nite, has been jettisoned in favor of 2014’s most referenced aesthetic: the late ’80s. Between the cassette and mom-jeans revival and the myriad young acts aping everyone from the Smiths to Rick Astley, it would be easy to dismiss the Tampa Bay natives for buying into an increasingly visible trend. Fortunately Merchandise know what they’re doing and in their bid to make what they refer to as their “formal pop record,” they’ve jumped to the front of the pack with a stylish, well-crafted, and yes, enjoyably derivative set. With sleek, hooky tracks like the two infectious lead singles “Enemy” and “Little Killer,” they ably inhabit their updated sound behind the confident, cool baritone of singer/guitarist Carson Cox. In the late ’80s they’ve chosen, Merchandise’s offerings would have bumped elbows with 120 Minutes-era classics like the Mission U.K.‘s Children or the Church‘s Gold Afternoon Fix, as they borrow some of the anthemic might from the former and the autumnal beauty from the latter. Bathed in reverb and warm organ, the gorgeous “Looking Glass Waltz” is a late-album standout with a lovely harmonium conclusion that segues effortlessly into the thunderous and moody title cut. The drums are heavy and deep, the guitars a mix of brittle acoustics and jangly electrics, and there’s not an ounce of Florida to be heard anywhere. Even when they falter, recalling some cornier synthesized production elements best left in the past (the otherwise great “Life Outside the Mirror” and “Telephone”), the writing remains generally sharp and the overall patina is preserved. On After the End, Merchandise’s decidedly British-sounding, Reagan-era alternative rock (before it was abbreviated to alt-rock) is 100-percent deliberate and about 80-percent great. While it’s unlikely to define its own era, it calls forth some classic elements from a prior era to great effect, and with some top-notch songcraft to boot. With download card. Mint.
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