When I first stumbled upon Merchandise it was in the midst of South by Southwest chaos, circa 2013. They showed up sandwiched between L.A. alt-folkers Dawes and Thurston Moore’s band of the moment, Chelsea Light Moving, at the end of one of the longer weeks in recent memory. Then a four-piece, they took to the Mohawk’s outdoor stage looking as one would expect a bunch of Tampa, Florida twenty-somethings to look: clean cut, casually dressed, and about as average guy-next-door as band members come nowadays.
Then they started playing.
In their eight years together, Merchandise has probably had a few thousand adjectives thrown in their general direction. They’re punk and post-punk, but also noisy and experimental. They’re ambient and nuanced and ballad-leaning, but also scorching and shreddy and not afraid to get weird. Their sound is a soup indicative of the myriad bands their players have dipped in and out of over the years, and it pretty much never approaches average.
Formed in Tampa, Florida, the now-quintet was built among an unarguably strong underground hardcore scene; the kind with skinheads and skaters that tends to thrive in the swamp-like heat of the deep South. Over the course of their run, they’ve dabbled in more straightforward post-punk soundscapes, no doubt aided by frontman Carson Cox’s affected baritone, which has been likened to Morrissey more times than anyone cares to mention at this point.
At the time we met, Merchandise’s star was on a strong upswing, thanks to the success of 2012’s Children of Desire. And this year, that breakthrough led to another: a record deal with 4AD and a stunning follow-up called At the End. This week, the band hits the West Coast in support of the album. They play the Echoplex in Los Angeles on Saturday, September 27. For rock fans looking for an excuse to road trip this weekend, there is probably no better reason to head south.
Merchandise play the Echoplex in Echo Park (1822 Sunset Blvd.) on Saturday, September 27 at 8:30 p.m. with openers Lower and Pure Ground. For tickets and info, visit theecho.com.