April 1, 2013

Album Review: Merchandise's Totale Nite EP

Merchandise reluctantly allowed themselves to be profiled as one of Pitchfork’s Rising "it" bands last year, a feature on the popular tastemaking site that has an instantaneous way of breaking bands. Before they became a Greenpoint apartment household name, the reformed hardcore punks-turned-noise-pop quartet (now with a permanent drummer in Elsner Niño of NYC punk act Shoxx) had prided themselves as being part of Tampa's close-knit DIY community, but having their image plastered on arguably the most influential online music publication has led to more visibility and overwhelming interest beyond the southern pan-handle (AwkwardSound included, naming them both a BUZZSound and 2012’s Best New Artist.) Add to that, their breakthrough effort and listmaker Children of Desire announced them to be a band who understood pop desconstructionism without abandoning punk ethos in a manner that appeals to everyone from an indie-pop-leaning listener to a hyper-critical cassette culture elitist.

With their new EP Totale Nite, Merchandise test their new found followers’ loyalty with a dense onslaught of chameleonism in what can easily be perceived as a reaction to their escape from the basement over the past year, featuring less post-punk romanticism and more risky stagedives completely off the genre grid. Opener "Who Are You?" is a lovely drudging of slow-plowing harmonics equally fogged up with reverb as psychedelic as the EP's cover art, while the tail-end 9-minute-plus title track pushes the envelope of experimentation to the extremes by inviting quarreling brass chaos into their already chaotic mix of clashing distortion and digitized staccato rhythm section (note: Niño was not yet included in this recording session,) making the most out of Sonic Boom of Spacemen 3's mastering talents in the process. "Anxiety's Door" doesn't necessarily rework Merchandise's gauzy Manchester-indebted DNA, finding frontbman Carson Cox cross-examining his polarized Floridian environment, "drinking the perfume air" on one hand while taking notice of the bums sleeping on the streets with both croons and wailing awareness that should make his Mozfather blush. The modernized Smiths frontman adoration continues on the subsequent lullaby "I'll Be Gone," even paying homage lyrically to the genre-bending punk hero's own hero, Nancy Sinatra, and her biggest hit.

Listeners looking for refined clarity and an expectant blue-print step toward mainstream-aligning cohesion as to capitalize on buzzworthiness here on Totale Nite may as well color themselves misguided trend followers. Merchandise's well-documented disregard for labels only appears to be multiplying in extremes, but not in the manner that makes the quartet's latest listen sound remotely disassembled or ungodly complex. Totale Nite is merely another groundbreaking auditory experience from the DIY-endorsed Tampa act that undresses in many layers, fabrics, styles, designers and emotions across the half hour play, but it's eclectic enough to ward off any comparisons to anything that's been done in the past, even by their own definition. And rightfully, that's the way creating music in these modern times should be.

Merchandise's Totale Nite EP will be released April 2, 2013 on Night People Records.

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