Not many bands are known for having more than five members. The Beatles were four, The White Stripes are two, Britney Spears is one (or is she?). Margot & The Nuclear So & So’s is an eight-member band that has so much creativity and life that the Indianapolis weekly Westward printed an article that doubted anyone who heard the band “could genuinely claim that it had not crafted a new, wholly unique sound that merited the creation of yet another subgenre.” Chamber pop has never sounded so good, and no band before Margot & The Nuclear So & So’s can claim sex folk — or for non-sex fans, urban folk — as its creation.
Singer/songwriter/guitar Richard Edwards and guitarist Andy Fry first met and bonded through their admiration for The Cardigans and Paul Simon in a chance encounter at a pet store. They would later start a band and be joined by Jesse Lee (cello), Emily Watkins (piano), Hubert Glover (trumpet), Chris Fry (drums), Casey Tennis (drums), and Tyler Watkins (bass) to form an unusual collective named after Gwyneth Paltrow’s character, Margot Tenenbaum, in Wes Anderson’s 2001 film The Royal Tenenbaums. Like Anderson with The Royal Tenenbaums, the band recorded The Dust Of Retreat in an attempt to re-create New York. In Margot’s vision, the album was a way to “re-create their own unreal ideas of how Greenwich Village might have been in the ‘60s” (Artemis Records press release). Since having never set foot in New York or the ‘60s, I’ll have to let the music do the imagining.
There’s nothing wrong with imagination, but it’s hard to picture 1960s New York when the music sounds so contemporary and the lyrics so modern. Anything musical from the 1960s alludes to Bob Dylan or The Beatles. That’s strike one against Margot, but somehow the band still manages to hit a home run with its debut album. Being the originator of its self-proclaimed scarf rock (how many subgenres did the band create?), Margot crafts an elegant and sophisticated collection of songs that oozes confidence, vision, and joy.
It takes confidence to perform the anthem-like “Quiet As A Mouse” without following the easy path of pure pop and artificial hype. It takes vision to perform a song (”Paper Kitten Nightmare”) that not only contains French lyrics, but also cat lyrics as well. It takes pure joy for music to combine both blues and folk in the amazingly sincere and vulnerable “Dress Me Like A Clown.” Every instrument is used to its fullest, creating melodies — even the briefest of ones — that resonate and shape the songs both individually and as a whole album.
As original and good as the Margot is, The Dust Of Retreat still has its limitations. Being as its recording was probably done on a shoestring budget, there are some small quirks like some unpolished seconds in “A Sea Chanty Of Sorts” and “On A Freezing Chicago Street” that give the songs a slight choppy feel. But I’m nitpicking because it’s hard to believe that a band as young as Margot could craft an album so musically complete. The band can perform moving ballads like “Talking In Code” to upbeat numbers like “Skeleton Key” without skipping a beat or losing continuity. One would hope that all pop music could sound like Margot & The Nuclear So & So’s, but if everyone did try to sound like them, used record stores would be packed with albums for their $1 bins.