Merchandise’s last album, 2014’s After The End, was their first for 4AD, and for it they dialled back their sound, brought out more acoustic guitars and even wrote a couple of radio-ready singles. Singer Carson Cox admits this: “We were ‘reborn’ as a rock band for After the End,” but that wasn’t the end of the story; “and then we straight-up died again.” For their latest release, A Corpse Wired For Sound, the band stripped back to their core three members, and actually spent time sending the files around the world for redubbing, as the members were remote from each other a lot of the time. These facts aren’t immediately apparent, as A Corpse Wired For Sound is by far Merchandise’s most full-sounding and layered album to date.

A Corpse Wired For Sound is the first album that Merchandise have recorded in an actual studio, with an actual producer, and this probably accounts for the newfound muscularity in their songs. Their hefty presence makes itself clear from the very outset, ‘Flower Of Sex’ launching into life on stone blocks of booming bass drum and washy and broad guitar chords. It’s a song that chugs like a monster truck, and the ill-fated lovers that Cox is singing about seem to be tumbling further and further from happiness as the band’s sweeping melodies brush them along. Similarly, on ‘End Of The Week’, the band’s devilish, sidewinding guitars and its booming percussion puts you in place of a society that’s looking towards the apocalypse, half in horror and half in blissful anticipation. By the end of the song, the metallic sheen and scratch of the guitars builds into a tumultuous noise, drowning out Cox’s vocals as the world implodes around.

This alchemical combination of hopefulness and hopelessness runs throughout the album, and is A Corpse Wired For Sound’s strongest asset. Their ability to carry this off so expertly starts with the voice of Carson Cox, who can sweep from sweet falsetto to disgusted grumble in a single line, and when it’s combined with the motorik power of Merchandise’s industrial sound it’s all the more potent. ‘Life In A Crystal Cage’ is the perfect example of this; a relatively subdued track, shining like its title, in which Cox contemplates his limited existence and finds himself equally satisfied and restless to escape. The dark and blocky synth that opens ‘Shadow Of The Truth’ is the perfect setting for Cox to express his frustrations, disgruntled and quiet in the verses, then opening up his voice for the cutting chorus. In fact, Cox has been keen to mention that the process for this album included stripping away everything in his life until he had nothing left but his voice. The expression of that feeling is woven throughout the album, but really comes to the fore in the magnificent ‘Silence’. The song’s blotchy electronics and craftily clicking percussion combine and slowly unwind and broaden, while Cox’s voice is doing the same, working its way up from meek beginnings into a powerful expression of being.

Corpse also includes a couple moments of brightness, shining out between the dark and brawny numbers. ‘Lonesome Sound’ is the outlier on the album as it sparkles with sunny guitar chords and features a highly catchy chorus, like ‘Little Killer’ from the last album, but it slides into this album as its lyrics once again focus on isolation and disgruntlement. ‘I Will Not Sleep Here’ is the album’s longest cut, and slowly unfurls through resonant acoustic guitar chords, organ drone, and Cox’s singing, in which he is slowly and tenderly pulling himself away from whatever or whoever has been tying him down. The song then explodes into a joyous stadium rock outro, wordlessly expressing that feeling of freedom.

The album’s title image, A Corpse Wired For Sound, is taken from a JG Ballard short story, but the band has said that they think it applies to them and their current state. That supercharged weariness is palpable throughout the album; Cox sounds exhausted in his singing, but never like he’s going to stop. The band’s unending rush from beginning to end seems like they’ve been charged up like the Energizer Bunny, and this electricity is fused into Cox and then into the listener. It makes for an exhausting and engrossing listen, and ultimately can’t be anything but a life-affirming statement.