Last year’s Children of Desire felt like a culmination of many things for Tampa’s Merchandise. For a few years they’d been toiling around, isolated from anyone that shared a similar mentality to them, tacked on to the burgeoning punk in their hometown (as well as being a main part of it as members of other bands). They released a few scrappy recordings and one album, but with Children of Desire they showed what they could do when they focused their attention, honed their sound and recorded at a higher budget. The result combined their kraut and jazz loves with their punk ethos in a way that produced a collection of muscular and powerful songs, a couple of which stretched beyond the ten minute mark, and most impressively it seemed completely instinctual to them.
Totale Nite comes less than a year on from Children of Desire and feels like a natural continuation of their sound. The band are showing here their comfort at producing consistently turbulent and busy rock songs with a cavernous scope, as made clear by the flanging mouth organ that wails over booming drums, signaling the opening to the album on “Who Are You.” “Anxiety’s Door” and “Totale Nite” continue to showcase the band’s love of kraut rock, both possessing unrelenting driving drumbeats while guitars and more chug and grind in time, keeping the pace and perfectly accenting Carson Cox’s romantic vocals. The themes of desire and escape that loomed over Children of Desire are continued on this album; “Anxiety’s Door” finds Cox wanting to leave the city where people sleep on the streets and his blood runs cold for a “a perfect country that sits right by the sea.” His lyrics suggest a heightened sensitivity to all the things going on around him that he dislikes, and this is mirrored in the guitar lines that seem charged up with an extra force. “Totale Nite” comes straight out of the gates with the force of an 18-wheeler, Merchandise’s usual undercarriage of sound bolstered by squealing saxophones, which add an edge to Cox’s horror story.
Merchandise also show their less frantic side on Totale Nite, most notably with centerpiece “I’ll Be Gone,” which once again displays Cox’s prickly disdain for what’s going on around him as he declares “I’m gonna paint myself in the sun, just to be free from all you motherfuckers.” This time, however, Cox is crooning over a slow dance, complete with sky-writing guitar heroics, and also a layer of feedback that slowly consumes the song as if it’s a gradually disintegrating high school memory. They take this tact again on the dark closer “Winter’s Dream” in which Cox dreamily imagines himself escaping to the moon after killing someone and taking no regret in doing so; even showing a desire to go on and kill more people.
Although none of the songs on Totale Nite push past the 10 minute mark, the tracks here seem to get just as much across as those previously released behemoths. Merchandise have certainly found their sound now and with it they’re finding more acclaim and popularity. They’ll now head out on tour and let’s hope that their love of performing outweighs their seeming dislike of matching the expectations of the current music industry. It could be a great opportunity for them to grow and evolve, since Totale Nite and Children of Desire suggest they’re just getting revved up.