Merchandise: After the End Review

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Merchandise: <i>After the End</i> Review

What comes after the end? That’s the implicit question posed the title to Merchandise’s new album. Their third full-length, it is likely to be the first release of theirs to be widely heard (thanks to new label 4AD) and stands as their first collection to make the ever-present rumbling of hype about them from the East Coast media actually seem warranted. After the End is an “I told you so” record, one that might make some naysayers eat crow, but bands turning out to be far better than expected is just the kind of crow that tastes delicious to music critics.

Taking its sound from Echo and the Bunnymen (vocals) and The Smiths (guitar), Merchandise manages to make the old sound new again, similar to The Horrors’ excellent 2011 album Skying, with a cinematic flair and pristine production, like a remake that actually improves on the original.

And that’s where the brilliance of After the End resides, in the details only the most adept students of their musical heroes would get. “True Monument,” a title that could describe the collection as a whole, lays down one of the most deliberate, and ultimately effective, guitar leads a mid-tempo song has delivered outside of Adult Alternative radio in the past decade. “Green Lady” continues the “closing-credits-for-a-Brat-Pack-flick”-worthy songs, while “Telephone” and “Enemy” are both celebratory strutters, showing a range that surprises more and more with repeated listens. Maybe it says something about the current state of independent music that being one-note is expected, but the dynamic range that Merchandise display on After the End feels like the musical equivalent of those ice buckets celebrities seem to like pouring on themselves.

Case in point is the title track, unmatched on the rest of the album both in tone and intensity. Riding the kick-bass and allowing Carson Cox to let the seven-minute opus roam freely over twinkling guitars, the song is a universe within a universe, forcing any easy categorization of Merchandise’s current sound to be obsolete within the same record on which it seems to have finally figured itself out. Bookended by slight, mostly instrumental numbers, After the End makes it seem that after the end is just another beginning, though that might be an easy answer to a nuanced question. But tapes, records and CDs all work that way, and After the End is just the type of record that could remain on a loop far longer than its running time without wearing out its welcome.