A Brief History of Merchandise (The Band, Obviously)


Merchandise, the difficult-to-Google band named after a Fugazi song, has been washing out noisy pop songs since they climbed out of Tampa, Florida’s hardcore scene. The juxtaposition of Carson Cox’s soulful croon and Dan Vassalotti’s swirling soundscapes may have seemed dissonant in the storage-unit venues of their hometown DIY shows, but now that they’re signed to a major indie like 4AD, their records are a bit more polished. The textures that defined their early sound aren’t totally gone on their latest LP, A Corpse Wired For Sound, though. So ahead of their show on October 9 with Flasher and Public Memory at Market Hotel, here’s our five favorite Merchandise songs that track their progression from basement weirdos to headliners.

A Corpse Wired For Sound—
“Flower of Sex”
From its first note, “Flower of Sex” sounds more expansive than most of the Merchandise records that came before it. Most of their songs are about sex, but the noisy mix of their earlier records often washed out Cox’s lyrics. This is one of the few to reference it so explicitly. It’s anchored by a forceful riff, and driven by a mix of acoustic and electronic drums. Listen for the mean D. Vassalotti solo around 4:00.

Children of Desire—“In Nightmare Room” 

This record is firmly in the pre-drummer era of Merchandise, and here on “In Nightmare Room,” the band flexes their MPC chops. With drum programming resembling ordered chaos, the rhythm section’s relentless pace leaves almost no room for negative space. The clang of the guitar rings out with a tone reminiscent of 1980s Manchester as Cox sings about intertwined bodies.

Strange Songs (In The Dark)–“I Locked The Door” 
A standout on the band’s first record, “I Locked The Door” ruminates on shared isolation. The vocal tracks are buried under a screeching guitar, each track fighting against each other rather than working in harmony—and the dissonance is addicting. Pretty much every song they’ve written since has smoothed out the edges of this song’s raw energy.

Totale Night–“Anxiety’s Door”
The riff that carries “Anxiety’s Door” is an absolute monster, two earworm bars that burrow their way into your brain via repetition. By this record, they’ve pulled Cox’s voice up out of the soup in the mix, and his lyrics are finally decipherable. It’s worth the effort, as “Anxiety’s Door” is one of the few Merchandise songs not about sex, but rather the expectations that come with privilege and potential.

Children of Desire
–“Become What You Are”

The masterpiece. There really isn’t another song like “Become What You Are” =—a 10-minute opus with an extended noise breakdown—anywhere in Merchandise’s catalog. The three-part track is almost an EP unto itself: It opens with a plaintive monster ballad about leaving home, but in the song’s seventh minute, it starts to veer down a noise spiral. Over top a driving rhythm section, we hear organs, distorted guitars, and all manner of discordant noise being woven in, out, and around the drums and bass—the noise rock equivalent to a bebop scat. When it comes tumbling down at the end, it leaves us right back where we started, breathless. The breakdown changes each time they play it live, and if we’re lucky, we’ll be treated to the latest iteration at Market Hotel on Sunday.