Review: Merchandise- Totale Night

Not long before Pitchfork’s Jenn Pelly started writing about their every movement, I had heard of Florida’s near un-Googleable Merchandise thanks to Deep Space Sounds—a small record distribution site based out of North Carolina. It was roughly a year ago that I had ordered copies of the band’s newly released Children of Desire, as well as their previous release Strange Songs (In The Dark.)

When you describe enough bands as having an “interesting sound,” or being “unique,” those words have lost all meaning. But for real, Merchandise have an interesting sound—fascinating, actually. It lies within the aesthetics they choose, both stylistically, as well as in their production quality.

Merchandise draw from a wide variety of influences—in interviews, they’ll mention how their music has more similarities to Miles Davis than to shoegaze, the members of the band all come from a background in Tampa’s punk scene, and you’ll hear post-punk with tinges of gothic new wave (Bauhaus, Love and Rockets, et. al) in their songs.

Totale Night sticks to a similar formula as Children of Desire, but it also has a few surprises. The first comes very early on in the opening track “Who Are You?” After a bit of ground wire sound, you hear a harmonica. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to hear that mixed in with all kind of strange background noises and the rather heavy sounding guitar strums.

The album’s first single, “Anxiety’s Door,” showcases the 1980’s influences I mentioned. It pulses along with electronic percussion, searing guitar riffs, and a chorus that is so near perfect to the style of pop music from thirty years ago, you think they were just straight up ripping another song off.

The halfway point on the album is the uncharacteristic slow jam “I’ll Be Gone.” It’s a welcome change of pace, and it works well as the song that splits up the halves. It’s blatantly earnest in the emotion that it was crafted with, and through the many layers of guitar work, you hear a strong leaning into dream pop territory—another delightful theoretical genre.  It’s the kind of song that wouldn’t be out of place being used in a school dance scene in some hip TV series.

Merchandise- I'll Be Gone

The album’s title track is also the longest song—clocking in at nine minutes. It begins with a slow fade in that reprises “I’ll Be Gone,” before it decays into static and feedback, and “Totale Night” kicks in. “Totale Night” is very reminiscent of the bratty and gloomy post-punk from Strange Songs, and it’s also the song that you could say has the strongest of those jazz influences they mention in interviews—throughout the nine minutes, it is anchored down by just abrasive, dissonance, saxophone blasts and freak outs, creating a rather jarring listening experience.

The album’s slow burning final track, “Winter’s Dream,” shimmers along with more dream pop-driven guitar work, as well as various ethereal sounding synth work—but that all ends within the final thirty seconds of the song, which are comprised of squalling feedback that suddenly stops—and with that, the record is over.

The aforementioned “unique” qualities of Merchandise lie within frontman Caron Cox’s vocal delivery. His voice can soar, but it sounds as though he is singing behind gritted teeth. It adds a toughness to even the least threatening moments on the album. The other defining thing about the band is their choice of production quality. Merchandise are, as a whole, a relatively unknown band, and it’s only been in the last year that they’ve started to garner any attention by “mainstream” press (and by that I mean Pitchfork.) It’s apparent that they don’t have a ton of cash to through around on the recording of their albums—which have all been put out by super small independent labels. The intentionally lo-fi, far away sounding production creates a captivating environment for these songs to live in. There are moments when you are assured that this is a “real” band—Cox occasionally sings the beginning of a phrase with the microphone away from his mouth. Merchandise are not perfectionists—they are just dudes from Tampa, that dress like greasers, that want to play real music.

With the buzz that’s been circling them recently, Totale Night will without a doubt raise their profile. Hell, it’s available to pre-order from the iTune store (weird, I know.) It’s a strange record, and a short record, but within the five songs featured, it tracks the progression of a band that refuses to be pinned down to a genre. 

Totale Night drops on April 2nd, courtesy of Night People Records.