Album Review: Merchandise – A Corpse Wired for Sound

8/10

Track Of The Day:  Merchandise - 'Flower of Sex'

Since the release of their last album, 2014’s After the End the band Merchandise has widened their horizons with some members relocating to Europe, specifically Germany and Italy. The latest release, their fifth album A Corpse Wired for Sound reflects the impressions the old world has made upon the trio. It also marks the first time the band recorded in a fully appointed sound studio as opposed to the closets and basements where they created their four prior albums. The result is an exacting but unexpectedly familiar release that offers a lot to embrace.

Merchandise was formed in 2008 in Tampa, Florida. The band comprises Carson Cox as frontman, on vocals and electronics, David Vassalotti on guitar and electronics and Pat Brady on bass. The trio collaborated with drummer Maurizio Baddio on the latest recording. The band started out as a post punk endeavor and over time began to investigate other genres. Their albums contain a distinctive blending of punk misanthrope, evocative balladeering, pop genius and music collage sensibilities. They drew significant musical industry notice with their 2012 release Children of Desire. On that release they creating a trademark sound best described as complex euphoria with beautiful but bleak sonics.

Members of the band draw inspiration from such disparate sources as J.G.Ballard , William S. Burroughs, Scott Walker, Leonard Cohen and the Byrds. A Corpse Wired for Sound was recorded at La Distillernain Studio in Rosa, Italy, and reflects the band’s new approach and the changes that have taken place in the members’ lives. “A Corpse Wired for Sound” took its title from a short story by J.G. Ballard and was written in a long distance collaboration between Cox and Vassalotti. While in the studio the band utilized overdub, sampling and sound modification to come up with a unique sound. Cox has stated that the evolution of the band’s approach can be described as such, “The last few years have been more of an experiment than an attempt to be a formal band, “ he continues, “ We’re back to thinking and composing as one intangible musical thing.”

A Corpse Wired for Sound is an engaging listen that captures the listener’s full attention by presenting songs that at first seem familiar, especially as they harken to some of the best in First Wave music, but are then made the trio own by infusing the songs with modern treatments and sensibilities. This approach avoids what could have been trite reheated derivative music and offers a reinvigorating sound. The first song on the release, Flower of Sex is a great example. The song mixes an easily recognizable early Depeche Mode sound with Jesus and the Mary Chain shoegazery and comes up with a fantastic track. A winning song results when the awesome Bryan Ferry/Ian Curtis vocal treatment is added to the mix. There is also a good dose of Goth and a hint of Psychedelic Furs hiding in the depths of the accompaniment. The song however is not a glorified tribute song. What differentiated the tune is the explosive invigorating sensual sound scape, and the hooky guitar riff in the last third that is the cherry on top.

I braced myself for the let down that was sure to come, but the following track Crystal Cage was just as enrapturing. The song chances being called derivative with the almost immediately identifiable echoes of Depeche Mode’s ‘Stripped” but the takeaway was more like meeting a long forgotten friend. Cox gives a great vocal effort again channeling Alt. greats Ian Curtis and Morrissey. Accompaniment wise the shimmering guitar and pixilated keyboards are noteworthy and there is a stellar digital bridge that takes the song past derivative tribute band stuff to fresh territory.

Again Merchandise brings the heat with the song Right Back to Start changing things up with a much more industrial feel but also an undertone of Reggae pulsation. The song examines the vicious circle of romance and the inevitability of ending up where you started. End of the Week is an off kilter shoegaze selection about the futility of love that would make the Reid Brothers of Jesus and the Mary Chain proud. The menacing guitar with its twisty wavery feel is a great effect, when this is added to the trippy vocal it makes for a great broody track and is my favorite on the release.

Lonesome Sound is Merchandise does The Smiths. Marr and Morrissey want their song back! The tune sounds like it could be the twin to “Some Girls are Bigger Than Others or Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.” The thing that again keeps the song from being a rip off of those legendary tunes is the driving beat, urgency and unique energy that the song contains. Merchandise again delivers the track in a familiar package but it is something completely different. Shadow of Truth gyres back to a more gothic feel and the studio generated atmospherics utilized make it oh so tasty. It is a seriously captivating song for anyone who appreciates Dark Wave and Goth. Silence continues the feeling that is begun with Shadow of Truth, it is a touch more electronic and feels like a marriage of Ministry and Psychedelic Furs; enter another song in the win column.

Just when you think you have this release pegged I Will Not Sleep Here spins the style wheel again, with an acoustic guitar/piano ballad. The song is filled with yearning and angst and displays a trio who can reach into any genre or song styling and create a great song. The final song is the kraut rock inspired My Dream is Yours and is Merchandise sticking the dismount. It is aurally spectacular as the band utilizes layered vocals and helium sound affects creating one heck of a stadium anthem. The song really ups the ante in the last 3rd with an amazing jam out.

I had some familiarity with Merchandise before this release, and truly enjoyed 2014’s After the End; with that frame of reference A Corpse Wired for Sound was an even better listening and a pleasant surprise. I think the release might be a candidate for the sleeper album of the year. Every track is appealing. The band is accomplished and disciplined in getting to the point with out long drawn out navel gazing which in turn makes for a consistency across the tracks that is enticing. I am very impressed by the album and highly recommend discerning listeners give it a chance, I don’t think you will regret it and in the process will find a new band to champion.

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