This British duo teased us over the past couple years with a pair of 7″ singles that hinted at where they were going with their new album, “For The Masses”, and now we finally have it! Led by the two earlier A-sides (with both b-sides nestled within the record, as well), the album only gets better as it goes, with other winners including the tense “Enemy” that feels like a bomb waiting to explode (but never does), the completely sunny and carefree “Best Idea” and the bombastic “Lies Like These”. In addition to the ones I just mentioned, the band runs through a wide variety of other influences and styles in just under 42 minutes, from Nada Surf-ish alt-pop to bossa nova to electropop, with hints of the Go-Betweens and the Monochrome Set popping up in more than a few places. And despite a couple missteps, like “Sonora Dance Band” (a vocal-effect laden interlude) and the dull “You Were Right”, this is still a rather impressive record! MTQ=10/13
A little nib from the Bolton News mentioning Saturday 24/9/10 ‘s at the White Horse on the A6 in Westhoughton
Bandcamp is basically another way of us uploading and selling our music quickly and easily. Getting things on itunes and the like takes a little while to sort but with Bandcamp we can have things up and moving really quickly. Here’s a screen shot/ link to our Bandcamp page which we’re using to initially release our new single Listen Up! (Sam Flanagan Rework). We keep trying these things to see what we like to use best but this one seems pretty simple to use – give it a go and let us know how you get on :0)
This is a remix/ rework of Listen Up! by Merchandise, the first track on our new album For the Masses. This rework was produced by Sam Flanagan who me and Con met on a packed train over a conversation about Northern Soul classic “Ghost in my House” by R Dean Taylor. Sam then made this great rework of this song. Enjoy!
I’ve included both the Bandcamp and Soundcloud players depending on which you like – the buy buttons both take you to the bandcamp page.
:: Merchandise ::
30 June 2010 / Cityscape / 13 Trk CD
Local stars and stalwarts of the ever present Bolton scene, Merchandise are back with a much welcome long player. Bolton is a place that deserves a bigger footnote for its recent contributions to great northern music and it’s bands like this that ensure that its reputation lives on. Brad B Wood and Conrad Astley certainly stir in various moods on this extensive collection of bright, melodic set pieces. Openers “Listen Up!” and “Sometimes” are pleasantly brisk, but respectably bustle and shuffle about their business. The slightly tougher “Enemy” remains laced in soft vocals, but has some infectious guitar loops to accompany the bouncy, almost ska tinged bass line – albums are worth the patience when they deliver up tracks like this. “Lonesome Beauty” serves up its own sublime mix of acoustica and pretty jungles, whilst “Lies Like These” thrives on smartly delivered American lo-fi pop footnotes. From here the album begins to slow down, picking up its heels only on “Travelling, Unravelling” before ebbing gently to its departure. “For The Masses” is an album of varying styles, somehow joined together with an intricate sensitivity and an underlying sense of fun.
Merchandise’s ‘For The Masses’ album is refreshingly laidback indie-pop with plenty of good old fashioned, twee charm. The downside, is that this record’s refusal to slap you around the face with a shedload of shiny hooks, means that there’s nothing here that’ll hammer its way into your long term memory and have you hitting the ‘repeat’ button. The upside, is that this is a pleasant, bright and breezy antidote to mainstream pop.
Album-opener ‘Listen Up!’ is all shuffling drumbeats, breathy vocals and playfully clunky piano. Immediately, it becomes apparent that frontman Brad doesn’t have a particularly strong voice, and the strain is sometimes audible, particularly on ‘Substitute White Noise.’ You may even come to suspect that he’s cunningly crossed the border from ‘singing’ to ‘speaking in tune’ without it being immediately apparent. However, there’s a warmth to his voice that perfectly compliments ‘For The Masses’s dewy, watercolour soundscapes.
Second track ‘Sometimes’ is very nearly another perfect indie-pop heart-warmer, ala ‘Listen Up!’ but the female backing vocals feel a little too glossy for the rest of the song. Niggles aside, this is a mock-sorrowful tale about no-one calling you on the telephone, which soon takes a more optimistic turn amongst jaunty piano refrains and springy acoustic strumming.
‘Best Idea’ and ‘Substitute White Noise’ have a more folkish slant. With ‘Best Idea,’ a vague smile is audible in every tinkling piano note and random outburst of “bah-da-ba-da!” vocals. It’s song that’ll never rock the airwaves, but it makes you feel everything’s alright with the world. This folky charm is put to the test, as Brad repeatedly veers off course during ‘Substitute White Noise,’ but this song survives his occasional duff note – just.
‘For The Masses’ isn’t all a dreamy-eyed stroll through sunny cornfields; Merchandise hit a more sorrowful note with ‘Glitterati’ and ‘You Were Right.’ The former takes the usual Merchandise fodder of twinkly piano strains and wafting vocals, but the riff that bends back and forth across the song has a wailing edge, while the blurry-eyed alt-pop of ‘You Were Right’ has its own mournful guitar line. Two pretty and wistful tracks, wrapped up in twee bows.
When it comes to ‘Enemy’ there’s something reminiscent of Canadian indie-rockers Metric, in how Merchandise use distortion to pick up the pace without making unrealistic demands on their breathy-voiced frontman. ‘Enemy’ has an unusual backdrop of tinny riffs that jab and jag around a piston-like pump of drums and the occasional spasm of skittering synths. It should be an uncomfortable listen, but Merchandise seal these disparate elements together with a crunch of static. An album highlight.
Merchandise miss the mark on four occasions, with ‘Lonesome Beauty,’ ‘Hard To Sleep,’ ‘Sonora Dance Band’ and ‘Prescription.’
‘Prescription’ is one of those unengaging songs that works itself into a rut early on, and then rolls comfortably along, while ‘Hard To Sleep’ is a dragging, maudlin piano ballad, and ‘Lonesome Beauty’ very nearly gets there, but doesn’t quite fit together right. The skittering drums jar against the soulful vocals, and both jar against the random spattering of piano keys. If that vigorously skittering beat was softened, or if Brad traded his mellow tones for something a little more sparky, then ‘Lonesome Beauty’ would feel more like a coherent whole.
The less said about ‘Sonora Dance Band,’ the better. It may subscribe to the school of the ‘mid-album experimental interlude,’ but it’s still an irritating, and rather pointless, song where voices drone “ooooh-ahhhh-woooo-ahhhh-ah-ah” and blur in and out of hearing, and nothing much else happens.
It isn’t all bad news when Merchandise try something a little different. On ‘Travelling, Unravelling’ Merchandise pick up the pace – crucially, without losing cohesion. This time around, the pumping drumbeat is worked into the song with the aid of some lively starburst guitar-scratching. The sound of a band stepping out of their comfort zone, and making it work.
Merchandise’s ‘For The Masses’ is, at its heart, a pop album, but one that’s delivered with an unpolished charm. While a big chorus or a shiny hook would have made this record more memorable, a big chorus or a shiny hook would have also destroyed the mood of ‘For The Masses.’ Refreshingly laidback and understated, this is pop music that wasn’t written for the charts.
Listen Up! is the second single from Merchandise’s third album For the Masses. You can either buy the full album, the CD single or beautiful 7″ white vinyl here at the Cityscape shop – links to the top left. You cn also click the buy buttons which will send you to itunes where you can get it digitally. It’s also available from all the other usual digital stores.
The first single from For the Masses, you can either buy the whole album from itunes or you can buy the CD or lovely 7″ white vinyl direct from the Cityscape Shop (links in the top left)