Album Review: Merchandise – Totale Nite

Totale Night
“You can really hear the punk roots of the band’s early days. However, the real key to Totale Nite’s success is the effectiveness of the album’s two ballads.”


Totale Nite (Night-People Records)

This isn’t a mistake. This is a review for Tampa buzz-band Merchandise in the “Local Albums” pages of Little Village. After heaps of accolades from the music press–NME and Pitchfork among others–the Florida trio went to Iowa City’s own Night-People to release their latest album, Totale Nite.

The five-song slab finds the Florida trio at their genre-bending best. The lead single, “Anxiety’s Door,” has garnered most of the early ink, and rightly so. The album’s second track opens with a tightly coiled rhythm section that explodes with David Vassalotti’s raw nerve guitar lick—which just begs for you to hum along. When the sparkling guitar recedes, the velvety baritone croon of Carson Cox floats in with a sobering load of solipsism: “Some things / Are never really there. / I walk the street at night, / I drink the perfumed air.” “Anxiety’s Door” is fraught with dynamic tension. Merchandise highlights Cox’s vocals with simple, arena-ready propulsion; when he pulls back from the mic, Vassalotti leads the composition off into deeper waters. The solo and repetition of the opening guitar figure that ends the song is accompanied by winter storm wind gusts from the keyboards and eerie, distant wails from Cox.

The group’s taught, post-punk numbers (“Anxiety’s Door,” “Who Are You?,” and “Totale Nite”) are strong. You can really hear the punk roots of the band’s early days. However, the real key to Totale Nite’s success is the effectiveness of the album’s two ballads. Especially strong is the road-weary third cut, “I’ll Be Gone.” The maudlin plod Merchandise establishes actually ends up opening sonic real estate for Cox to really let his baritone brood and Vassolatti’s guitar explore textures in sustained chords and arpeggiated runs. The gist of the lyrics isn’t entirely clear, both due to a bit of slurring and some opaque imagery (“to walk in the daytime / amidst a hundred burning computers), but the distance and isolation are felt in the aching vocal delivery and the expansive fret work. The aural equivalent of showing, not telling.

If John Schlotfelt were an Instagram filter he’d be Hudson: retro, a little worn, but not too ostentatious. #NoLoFi

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