The debut album from Cork’s, The Grey Merchant was written and recorded over the course of the year and mixed in Cork and Berlin. Originally the brainchild of Neon Atlas, guitarist Enda O’Flaherty with a rotating cast of guest musicians, the line up has stabilised and coalesced into a three-piece live act. The recent release of the title track as a single means that five of the songs on Avenue De Rennes have preceded the album.
The opening track, ‘The Last Transmission’, barges in with no introductions or niceties. There's a Britpop-era-Radiohead vibe from the enormous wall of guitars that precede the verse. The Grey Merchant have been compared to Kyuss and Fu Manchu but they're much closer to Feeder than any of those; with ‘The Last Transmission’ as a gothic version of ‘Buck Rodgers’.
There’s a heavy influence of noisy, nineties popsters, Teenage Fan Club too, along with My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth and Joy Division; the latter particularly noticeable in the drumming. The pounding drums, in conjunction with a guest vocal from Pete Mac, make ‘Egyptian Plover’ sound like Husker Du. ‘Alphabet Soup’ starts with a sample from Stephen King’s so-bad-it’s-good film, Maximum Overdrive. King himself delivers the “This machine just called me an asshole” line in one of the highlights of his sole directorial opus. The riff that follows is equally rude but, leads to a singalong chorus.
There are numerous changes in mood and tone throughout Avenue De Rennes. ‘The Exchange’ is a slower number in the vein of The Jesus And Mary Chain. There’s a tacit acknowledgement of their influence in the drumming, with sounds in, ‘Just Like Honey’. ‘Spotless (The Protecting Veil)’ features Charlie Chaplin’s climactic speech from The Great Dictator, over a swirling shoegaze-y backdrop. The juxtaposition of the old-timey sample and the abrasive sonics makes The Grey Merchant sound like, Fight Like Apes with guitars in the place of synthesizers. The samples return in ‘Convenience’ with a JFK recording. The track itself is a rousing rocker. It’s been compared to The Butthole Surfers covering Motorhead, which sums it up pretty well. You would imagine this track kicking off the set on their upcoming tour.
Avenue De Rennes is a fine way to finish the year in Irish rock. Fangclub and Otherkin have grabbed the headlines but their music is derivative and vapid. The Grey Merchant play music that is less marketable than the aforementioned acts but, is more inventive and meaningful. It’s unmistakably “Irish” rock with an international flavour and whets our appetite to hear these songs played live. Bring on 2018.
Check out Avenue De Rennes via their Bandcamp here.