Tampa’s Merchandise were one of our 40 Best New Bands Of 2012, and we picked them to headline a Los Angeles show we curated in 2013, so I think it’s fair to say we’ve been excited about the band for a while now. But if I were to tell you we expected this from the band … well, that would be a baldfaced lie. Did anyone expect this? Could anyone have expected this?
When I say “this,” I’m referring to After The End, the forthcoming LP from Merchandise. It’s either their third or fourth full-length — depending on how you categorize 2013 mini-album Totale Night — but crucially, their first for 4AD. Where all Merchandise’s earlier records had the ambitious but unpolished sound you might expect from a band known as much for their DIY anti-establishmentarianism as their music (they’re named after a Fugazi song and they didn’t even have a Facebook page till last October), After The End is the sound of a band that has been awarded substantial resources, and has used every last one of those resources to make a perfect, timeless record.
That’s not to say they’ve abandoned their principles: After The End is another result of Merchandise’s DIY process; it was recorded and produced by the band in the Tampa house they share. This time, though, they assigned mixing duties to Englishman Gareth Jones, whose resume includes classic albums from bands like Depeche Mode and Erasure (as well as post-millennial headphone-porn like Interpol’s Turn On The Bright Lights and Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest). It’s impossible for any outsider to know how much After The End is affected by Jones’ influence, but whatever his contributions may have entailed, the album sparkles like a Porsche 911 Carrera on the showroom floor, and it drives just as smoothly. This thing would shuffle seamlessly into a playlist featuring the greatest hits and choicest deep cuts from bands like Echo & The Bunnymen, the Thompson Twins, the Housemartins, Simple Minds, Tears For Fears, David Sylvian … (I keep thinking to myself that this album is to John Hughes soundtracks what the War On Drugs’ similarly breathtaking Lost In The Dream is to ’80s boomer rock.)
Of course, no discussion of After The End will fail to include mention of the Smiths, whose influence here is unmistakable. Yes, Merchandise have been acolytes of Morrissey and Co. since the early days — most prominently in the croon-y vocals of frontman Carson Cox — but After The End amplifies that connection by a factor of about 20. It might be the best Smiths album made by a band other than the Smiths since … Gene’s Olympian? Except it’s actually a better album than Olympian. So … Viva Hate?
As much fun as it is to pick out influences and references, though, After The End stands on its own in any context. As far as I’m concerned, it’s an immediate Album Of The Year contender, and more importantly, a swooning, bold, joyful, melancholy, melodramatic, transcendent listening experience. Every time I press play on the thing — and ever since it landed in my inbox, I’ve pressed play on almost nothing else — it feels like time stops.
You can hear evidence of that below via new single (and video) “Enemy,” which could very well be the best song on After The End; it was my entry point into the record, and the first time I heard the song, it grabbed and held me with an almost physical force. But below that, you can check out the album’s first single/video, “Little Killer,” which you may have missed when it debuted in May. And that song also could very well be the best thing here. But those two tracks are going up against at least five others, all of which I love just about equally and without reservation, and I’m not sure I’m ready to pick a favorite just yet. I’m gonna have to listen a whole lot more before I get there. You should, too.
Merchandise are going on the road in September and October; here are the dates:
09/07 – Gainseville, FL – The Atlantic (w/ White Lung & Post Teens)
09/19 – Mobile, AL – Alchemy Tavern
09/20 – New Orleans, LA – Siberia
09/21 – Houston, TX – Walter’s (w/ The Rebel, Spray Paint, & Institute)
09/23 – Austin, TX – Red 7 (w/ Lower & Institute)
09/24 – Marfa, TX – Padres (w/ Lower)
09/25 – Albuquerque, NM – Sister (w/ Lower)
09/26 – Phoenix, AX – 51west (w/ Lower)
09/27 – Los Angeles, CA – Echoplex (w/ Lower)
09/28 – San Diego, CA – Kensington Club (w/ Lower)
09/30 – Santa Cruz, CA – The Catalyst Atrium (w/ Lower & Wild Moth)
10/01 – San Francisco, CA – Rickshaw Stop (w/ Lower)
10/03 – Portland, OR – Mississippi Studios (w/ Lower & Arctic Flowers)
10/04 – Vancouver, BC – Biltmore (w/ Lower)
10/05 – Seattle, WA – The Crocodile (w/ Lower)
10/08 – Fargo, ND – The Aquarium (w/ Lower)
10/09 – Minneapolis, MN – Triple Rock (w/ Lower)
10/10 – Chicago, IL – Empty Bottle (w/ Lower & Final Grin)
10/11 – St. Louis, MO – The Luminary (w/ Lower)
10/12 – Columbus, OH – Ace of Cups (w/ Lower)
10/14 – Brooklyn, NY – Music Hall of Williamsburg (w/ Lower & Ninos Du Brasil)
10/15 – Toronto, Ontario – Wrongbar (w/ Lower)
10/16 – Ottawa – House of Targ (w/ Lower)
10/17 – Montreal – La Vitrola (w/ Lower)
10/18 – Boston, MA – Great Scott (w/ Lower)
10/21 – Philadelphia, PA – First Unitarian Church (w/ Ninos Du Brasil)
10/22 – Washington, DC – Black Cat Backstage (w/ Ninos Du Brasil)
10/23 – Richmond, VA – Strange Matter (w/ Ninos Du Brasil)
10/24 – Raleigh, NC – Kings (w/ Ninos Du Brasil)
10/25 – Atlanta, GA – Mammal Gallery (w/ Ninos Du Brasil)
After The End is out 8/25 via 4AD.