On its surface, Totale Nite doesn't seem radically different from Merchandise's previous material. And that is perfectly fine. Two albums and several cassettes/singles into what was intended to be just a one-off side project, Merchandise have become one of the best neo-goth/goth bands out there, creating incredibly captivating, noisy, sprawling pieces of melancholy pop that anyone who listens long enough to will just fall into the bleak world of broken hearts and despair it creates. And if all they did was create five more songs that just extended that world, I would be perfectly content with that in every way.
However, Merchandise have decided to use the opportunity of creating Totale Nite to stretch their legs a little bit and expand their sound, though through intentionally subtle means so it feels as natural as possible. It’s almost obvious from the opening track “Who Are You?”, with its bluesy harmonica that sets the stage for the disjointed waltz of a track, while noisy guitar and other effects detonate in the background. However, like many Merchandise intro tracks, it’s the shortest song here, and so its difference in style is forgotten quickly as the more true to form “Anxiety’s Door” kicks in. “Anxiety’s Door” is an incredible song, a gorgeous, upbeat, near seven minute blast of Cure worship through a shoegaze filter. Yet “Anxiety’s Door” has its own shifts in sound as well. The drum machine that forms the core of many of Merchandise’s songs is less scrappy then it usually is, giving the song an added oomph. Not to mention the noise, while present on the song, is reduced, which gives both Dave Vassalotti’s guitar a wonderful ‘80s sheen to it (especially during the solos), as well as making Carson Cox’s vocals much more prominent and powerful, their beauty and elegance obscured by nothing and thus that much better.
This cleaner sound and higher production continues throughout the record with the likes of “I’ll Be Gone”, which almost forgoes noise completely and instead concentrates on creating a sweeping ballad out of twang guitar, slow drums, and Cox’s voice. It’s the emotional core of the album, and its length gives the song the time to build up its presence and potency to the right degrees. Of course, that entire mood is completely thrown out the window once the title track kicks in. A nine minutes fury that brings their experimentation to ahead, good portions of it are built around uncharacteristic angular guitar riffs and no wave saxophone blasts. All of which, though eventually gives way to the scorching blurry choruses which somehow focus all the chaos that surrounds them, though the final might have made the song a touch more manageable. Closer “Winter’s Dream” helps to bring back the drearier mood; the closest the band has gotten to dream-pop, with sparkling synths at its outer edges, the slow groove of the bass, drums, and vocal delivery, and the ringing chime added to the sparse, guitar chords. Of course, this is all undercut in a typical fashion as the lyrics concentrate on (metaphorically?) killing those who would change you, and the sharp blast of static at the end, as yelling at the listener the band’s belief that beauty cannot exist without noise, and vice versa.
Totale Night could have been a messy affair, with the band trying too many things and muddling their sound. Instead, the brevity of the track list (though not of the tracks themselves), as well as Sonic Boom's production, don't allow for necessarily a completely cohesive release, but one that definitely stands as a solid collection, and creates something more with its songs. It's a new step for a band that never really was locked into any sound in the first place; one that will be very interesting to see where it takes the band. In the mean time, the sprawl, and twisted nighttime of Totale Night is more than enough to cement Merchandise's prowess. If not convinced, listen to "Anxiety's Door" again because not enough words can be written about how incredible that track is.
Buy Totale Nite here, from Night People