Tampa rock band MERCHANDISE are either in an enviable situation or an unwinnable one, a band that seems to already have something to prove while actually just getting started. Last year's Children Of Desire EP was a startling debut, a moody, desolate, and at-times brilliant spin on modern post-punk and indie rock led by the majestic 11-minute epic "Become What You Are," which not only was my favorite song of 2012, but my final act of No Rules Radio for WFNX a few weeks ago when I queued it up in the system for over an hour and walked out for the last time.
The lyrics to that gem, "I'm a mother's son, I'm a rolling stone / I don't want anything, that I have to own" seemed to echo my sentiments towards the station's misguided suits better than any extended middle finger. It was that type of raw captured emotion that made Children of Desire so palatable. Outside of Japandroids' battle cries, 2012 wasn't really a stellar year for quoting lyrics in fits of rage or passion. Apologies go out to all the graduates who had to fill their yearbooks with something else.
Anyway, now Merchandise is back with a fairly quick turnaround record, the five-song/33-minute Totale Nite, out now via Night People and streaming in its entirety via the YouTube link above. It continues Merchandise's skill for detached melody, and droning, seemingly-endless sonic-journey songs that don't feel quite as long as they are. The Smiths reference is already dated, but a lot of these tracks, like last year's collection, have a loose, distant cousin in the feel of "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me." And while the "they're from Florida?!?" card has been played countless times before, it's raised here not that in surprise this band is from the middle of the cultural wasteland Sunshine State, but in that these songs have a frigid chill to them. Sunny pop this is not, a winter band this very well may be.
Since last year's release the band has added a member of two, and one of the highlights of this recent SXSW excursion was seeing them at the Viceland party, joined on stage by a saxophonist and while changing up some of the lyrics, able to convey live the type of removed sincerity so expertly displayed in the bands recordings.
After several listens, Totale Nite doesn't have the immediate gravity of a "Become What You Are," but it easily feels more balanced, and with a greater texture in sound and wider approach (hey there harmonica!), practically eliminating any genre label limitations. It's nice evolution from the last EP, and deserving of just as much praise.