Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s is a dense band, perhaps the result of eight members sharing the same domicile in Indianapolis. The band’s debut, The Dust of Retreat, is full of big ideas and big sounds. There’s a lot going on, but it’s all packed into tight well-crafted songs that vary wildly and still complement each other.
The product of a merger of musical ideas between songwriter-vocalist-guitarist Richard Edwards and guitarist Andy Fry, Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s quickly accumulated like-minded band members, including Tyler Watkins on bass, Emily Watkins on keyboards, Hubert Glover on trumpet, Jesse Lee on cello, and two drummers in Chris Fry and Casey Tennis. Named in part after Gwyneth Paltrow’s character in The Royal Tenenbaums, Margot’s sensibility is a merger of the baroque and the bohemian, and their 2006 reissue (released last year on Standard Recording Co., The Dust of Retreat has been not only remastered but also re-sequenced by Artemis) has a sound that is in part familiar, and on the whole quite distinct.
The title of opener “A Sea Chanty of Sorts” reinforces some of the early comparisons to the Decemberists. “Quiet as a Mouse” sounds like a song undeservedly left off of the Stills’ Logic Will Break Your Heart and is immediately followed by “Jen is Bringin’ the Drugs,” which sounds undeservedly left off Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning.
Other fleeting resemblances include the Arcade Fire, Doves, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Death Cab For Cutie, but all these comparisons are nominal and do Margot a disservice. But like those bands’, the song craft exhibited by Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s is compositionally elaborate and thematically pure and often encourages devoted followers.
Margot veers constantly from effortless rockers to soft, introspective acoustic ballads, full of both love songs and kiss-offs; it almost feels like a different band composed each track. That’s often the modus operandi of a restless band whose songwriters are engaged in a game of playing dress-up, but Richard Edwards and his gang shift genres, volumes and tempos throughout while keeping the album emotionally focused.
Even with Glover’s trumpet and Lee’s cello contributions and the layered business of an eight-piece band, there is blessed lack of intentional quirkiness in Edwards’s songs. His vocals are strong and sincere, devoid of overly mannered affectations. “Paper Kitten Nightmare” is an abstract exception, but a rather charming one, a meditation on death culminating in a sung chorus of meows. It sounds far more obnoxious than it is, trust me.
The Dust of Retreat loses some of its impact during the final three songs, but it is nonetheless an impressive work by a band that’s been together for less than two years. The members of Margot & the Nuclear So & So’s embrace the theatrical, and it will be exciting to see what’s in store for their second act.