As much as I loathe music reviews featuring lazy equations like, “take one part [name of band] plus one part [name of other band] . . . ” in the case of Merchandise‘s Children of Desire, it does make for a good jumping off point. What separates Children of Desire from bands that are just a formulaic rehashing of previous, and far superior bands, is how they merge these styles and sounds to create something unique and bracing that doesn’t actually sound like anything else.
The album opens with “Thin Air,” a short, yet yearning piece that feels like an introduction for what’s to come. “Time” is longer, but still somewhat freeform in that it doesn’t rely on shopworn riffs or rhyming couplets. Singer Carson Cox has a rather idiosyncratic voice and delivery, ranging from falsetto to a deeper baritone; no matter how he’s singing, what registers is a sincerity and frankness that is offset by a combination of feedback, synths, processed drums, and subtle basslines that give these songs an oddly retro yet completely modern feeling.
With “Become What You Are,” bursts of synth noises fade in and out of a heavier guitar and drum sound, and something that is quite catchy despite not sounding like a typical pop song. Cox’s voice ascends into a falsetto that is eerily and emotionally reminiscent of early Smiths songs like “You’ve Got Everything Now” or “I Don’t Owe You Anything.” Yet at the same time, this sounds nothing like The Smiths.
Lyrically, the song tells a story, albeit an extremely personal and not quite straightforward one, which melds perfectly with the cold-yet-warm music behind it. When you think the song is over, it fades out into even more feedback and guitar, with wordless vocalizations from Cox and bleeps and bloops, and then something so simple yet universal: “help me run and hide, baby/help me run and hide/I’m terrified of the world.” There’s even an extended, haphazard organ solo that is far more compelling (and psychedelic) that can be gleaned from me typing out these words. For a ten-minute song, this is remarkably put together.
The shoegazey vibes that have flitted through the album up to this point reach their apex in the marvelous “In Nightmare Room” the highlight of the album for me. The guitar echoes like a heartache and the drums up the tempo into a driving rhythm. While it recalls a much-less-frenetic Husker Du circa-1986, there’s the ghost of Killing Joke’s “A Love Like Blood” haunting the sonic palette as well. Still, the song manages to sound distinctive and not just a collection of cribbed references, especially with dreamlike lyrics like, “I kissed your mouth and your face just disappeared.”
A large tonal shift occurs with the echoing, Smiths-like piano of “Satellite.” It’s a bittersweet song, including some violin that feels organic and not tacked on as an attempt at legitimizing what is already a lovely tune.
The epic “Roser Park” closes the albums with a spacey intro fading into organ chimes. It’s a wistful, trancelike song with Cox’s voice and gorgeous basslines grounding its ethereal nature. It also brings back the guitar melody from “Time,” which soars in this context, before fading out into more organ music and celestial sounds.
Children of Desire—and, by extension, Merchandise—is impossible to categorize. As such, this is a band and an album definitely worth checking out, especially if you are looking for something fresh and original.
Children of Desire was released through Katorga Works on April 3. The label’s website has a link to download the entire album for free. Children of Desire was also released on vinyl, but it appears that both pressings of 1,000 have sold out. The physical release comes with a fictional journal with stories that are reflected in the album’s lyrics.