After a bit of an absence, Warm Visions is back with another edition of 10 Best Songs, aka the main driver of views on this blog. People do be lookin at ranked lists though. Who knew? This time I’m featuring Floridian band Merchandise, whose work dominated my listening in the 10s, from my start on their 2012 album Children of Desire to their most recent album in A Corpse Wired For Sound in 2016. They’re definitely more of a niche artist compared to many of the others I’ve ranked aside from maybe Hundred Waters (who also happen to be from Florida!) but that doesn’t mean you should just overlook this. Merchandise are a fantastic group that bring a natural swagger to 80s-inspired goth rock, post punk and new wave and have plenty of classic songs under their belt to get new listeners obsessed with them. Their earlier work too is fantastic, and I recently recognized it’s likely what primed me into liking the Cindy Lee record What’s Tonight To Eternity so much in 2020, with its singing darkness and discordant pairing of noise and melody. Check it all out below – it’s a good trip to go on.
1. “In Nightmare Room” [Children Of Desire, 2012]
I go between “In Nightmare Room” and the song at my #2 spot as my favorite Merchandise song, but always have to give it to “Nightmare” at the end of the day. It’s binge-able, being half the length of “Become What You Are”, and the production and guitar work are immaculate. The drum machine that opens up into some hand percussion in the back end of the track? The fiery guitar work of D. Vassalotti? The swaggering, almost surreal singing of Carson Cox, the thundering reverb drenched on everything? I would have played this on every single episode of my radio show in the fall of 2012 if I could have. It drills directly into the pleasure center of my brain and sets up a gothic rock fantasy land. Nearly 10 years later it still thrills me.
2. “Become What You Are” [Children Of Desire, 2012]
Despite me liking “In Nightmare Room” more as just a fun song that makes me feel good, I’d say confidently that “Become What You Are” is the crown jewel of Merchandise’s discography. Its near 11-minute length is fully utilized, starting as an inspirational-sounding 80s rock jammer with shiny guitars, a simple, reverby drum machine, solid bass line and lovely vocal melody & delivery from Cox. Melodically and sonically, the first half of the track as a whole just rips in every sense. Every sound, every accent, every switch in sound or rhythm is perfectly timed and keeps the track moving along. The second half of the track then sees that stereotypical 80s formula blown open, put into a washing machine and turn into a discordant jam of piercing synth freakouts, soaring guitar noise, multi-layered fragments of Cox’s voice calling out in the storm. It’s a song that doesn’t sound like it’s 11 minutes long. That’s always an accomplishment.
3. “Time” [Children Of Desire, 2012]
I think this was the first Merchandise track I’d heard, introduced to me after Pitchfork named it Best New Track in the summer of 2012. I instantly loved the wraps of furious guitar that constantly moved alongside the steady drum machine – I don’t I had heard anything quite like that at the time. Pure discordancy paired with blissful, high-pitched harmonies and an upbeat pop sensibility. Cox’s voice is also obviously a massive magnetic pull, his effortless croon providing a sense of stability amongst the hooky, always-moving bass, guitar and machine. Thus completes the “big three” in Merchandise’s catalog, in reverse order compared to how they’re aligned on the album they’re on, Children of Desire.
4. “Anxiety’s Door” [Totale Nite, 2013]
Took all some of the best things about “Become What You Are” and turned it all the way up, nearly becoming an arena rock song in the process. Has a great sense of movement (I’ll say that a lot in this list), with glittering percussion (little hints of acoustic guitar in there are magnifique!), massive soaring guitars and the signature huge drum machine sound. If you want Merchandise at their biggest, I think this track is the one to check out.
5. “Green Lady” [After The End, 2014]
Ok I don’t want to rag too hard on After The End, but I had such stupid high expectations for that record. The only song that lived up to those expectations was “Green Lady”, which is still a track that’s full of magic for me. Immaculately produced, with expert control of dynamics, awesome performances, a sweet balance of high and low frequencies, a sweet guitar solo, monumentally huge percussion and just an overall great sense of movement. It took the arena rock aspirations set on “Anxiety’s Door” and made a more stable ground to build upon. Just a marvelous track.
6. “Schoolyard” [Gone Are The Silk Gardens Of Youth, 2010]
Plucked from a limited cassette Merchandise posted for download on their site in the first half of the 10s, “Schoolyard” is an under-the-radar hit that shows that to write a good song, all you really need is a slappin’ drum machine beat, a thudding bass line (something about it is just so raw, so ROUND – I’ve replayed the first 15 seconds or so just to hear it in all its glory multiple times), a ripping noisy guitar and a confident front person. The sound here is distorted, just above demo quality, but the pure magic is still jumping off the tape. It’s not the prettiest song in their discog, but it’s up there as one of the catchiest.
7. “I Locked The Door” [Strange Songs (In The Dark), 2010]
Very similar to “Schoolyard”, “I Locked The Door” sees another tight drum machine loop backing up just furiously swirling guitars and Cox’s infectious singing pulling the listener into this madhouse of flying shrapnel. Definitely subject matter-wise one of their darkest songs yet, but instrumentally one of their most fun. I can’t not have a good time listening to it.
8. “I’ll Be Gone” [Totale Nite, 2013]
This song has grown in favor over the last few years and is the only slower-tempo track on the whole record. It’s totally a torch song, with weepy acoustic guitar, minimal but huge reverbed drum machine (with a snare that sounds like it lasts forever), cinematic backing synths and full of sentimental guitar solos that really paint a picture of someone walking into the sunset. It’s still plenty noisy, with loads of instruments stacking on top of one another to create a a near-chaotic din of what should be emotional farewell motifs. Totale Nite is super underrated and something that I definitely need to return to more.
9. “I’m Still Right” [Merchandise, 2009]
From the band’s self-titled debut album, a self-described demo in some spots, Merchandise show off their hardcore roots and lay out the blueprint of what they planned on doing on future releases. “I’m Still Right” is essentially the opener after a short 16-second instrumental intro track. It’s a slow builder, with well-executed dynamics in the first three minutes to really push the story forward: a thudding drum part (a rare glimpse of prominent live drums in Merchandise’s early catalog!), with crushing guitar playing on the same beats as the drums. Three minutes in, the track clicks into overdrive, zoning into a chugging hardcore riff (sorry if I sound like a total square typing that out – I am a total square) and just letting Vassalotti’s guitar chops really shine. It’s an invigorating track that would get me outta my seat and listening over and over. Love a good climactic rock moment!
10. “Right Back To The Start” [A Corpse Wired For Sound, 2016]
Justice for A Corpse Wired For Sound, Merchandise’s most recent album and a admirable comeback after the flop (in my eyes) that was After The End. This album saw the band mix up tempos and instrumentation, with “Right Back To The Start” shining as the pinnacle of the record, showcasing a rubbery, slippery synth backing track with booming synthetic drum pads mixed with live percussion. It nearly sounds like there’s no guitar in this track at all, and there may not be on the recorded version, but I saw in a live cut that Vassalotti puts a good lot of effects to make this guitar almost sound like a synth, laying down gauzy sheets of sheer curtains around the track, like a luminescent cocoon. This caught my attention on my first listen of the album and it continues to be a favorite track of mine since then. If they’re kaputt, this is a perfectly fine note to leave on.
MORE ESSENTIAL MERCHANDISE TRACKS:
- “In The Dark” [Strange Songs]
- “It’s A Man’s World” [Merchandise]
- “Kill The Lights” [Merchandise]
- “Little Killer” [After The End]
- “Lonesome Sound” [A Corpse Wired For Sound]
- “Loss” [Strange Songs]
- “Roser Park” [Children Of Desire]
- “Schoolyard [Club Mix]” [single]
- “Shadow Of The Truth” [A Corpse Wired For Sound]
- “Totale Nite” [Totale Nite]
- “Untitled” [Angels In The Station]
- “Worthless Apology” [Strange Songs]