Review Summary: I did a sick, sick thing to my love.
Often when we listen to music, it feels like we are the only person who enjoys it. It could be from the ridiculous toll that pop culture has taken on the people around us, but it still feels like this particular album or song was made just for you, no matter how much critical acclaim it met upon release or throughout the years. But this feeling is even stronger when there actually is nobody who has listened to the music. Maybe a few have heard it before, but it is criminally low in the ranks. There is always a strange feeling of joy and excitement when hearing an underrated or often overlooked album. You have probably heard very few opinions on it, and you don’t know what to expect. You just press play and listen to see what the album has to offer. This basically described what happened upon my first listen of Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s “The Dust of Retreat”. Although I had an idea of what reception it would have received from a few votes here on sputnik, I still had that excitement. It felt like this masterpiece was made just for me to find, sitting neglected on a shelf in a local record store, covered in scratches and ripped cellophane. But my expectations that I made from the ratings I saw were met almost instantly.
I usually don’t like to compare a band to other bands, but to say that it feels like a mixture of The Arcade Fire, Brand New, and Dredg seem to create a fairly accurate image of what the music sounds like. This sound is executed perfectly in the second track on the album, “Skeleton Key”. It uses the Arcade Fire’s simple yet catchy drum beats, with Dredg’s light guitars picking away, and vocals that sound very alike to Jesse Lacey. It is also demonstrated quite well on the fourth track, “Quiet As A Mouse.” The entire track has a mostly Brand New-esque feel to it. The entire track is just like most of the album, It is absolutely brilliant, and all that did was fuel the feeling of excitement I got when listening to it. It feels a bit sad that it is overlooked, and it is without a doubt amazing. It feel s like an album that so many people could enjoy, but they just don’t know about it. The lyrics are extremely well written, the guitars are usually catchy and add the smooth flow of each track. Even the drums play a greater role on the album than percussion does in most music. The pre-chorus to “Quiet as a Mouse” is the one part that completed the song, just because of the quarter notes on the bass drum.
Another vital aspect of the album is the mounds of emotion poured into it. On “Skeleton Key”, you can immediately interpret Richard Edward’s feelings on his own adultery. Most bands use the cliché “stfu, you don’t love me” kind of mood in their lyrics, but here it seems to be turned into something better, that explains it to a fuller extent, and overall makes it less lame. It is hard to explain. Love is not a hard subject to find in music, and gets boring after a while. But here, there is actual imagery to it. You can feel the emotions that the collective is trying to produce. It would be accurate to say that you can totally feel the love. Aside from the emotion that is put into the lyrics, it would also be appropriate to add that they are catchier than any poetic work that I have heard or read before. Richard’s rhymes along with the way that he sings them are flawless. It might be more accurate to say that the vocals are what make the lyrics catchy, but the lyrics are worthy of an honorable mention just by themselves.
And how could I forget the instrumentation? “The Dust of Retreat” may not have been created by the best musicians out there, but the way that the musical tools are used is genius. “Skeleton Key” feels like one big layered cake of instruments. All of them seem to fit in, and the whole thing tastes awesome. The drums are the platter that the whole thing is kept up on, the smooth acoustic throughout the whole track is the silky, brown chocolate icing, and the keyboard that sings throughout is the jelly spelling out congratulatory statements involving your birthday on the top of it, not really necessary but a nice touch nevertheless. I could go on about how the maracas are the sprinkles, but I should probably move on before I break down and ravage my fridge.
I guess since I am giving this album a 4.5 and not a 5, I better show some of the very few negatives on this album. One of them is the eighth track, “Paper Kitten Nightmare”. Although it is one of the cons on this album, it is still a good song. It just does not seem to live up to the standards that the many great tracks before it have set the bar for. The creativity that was shown in the earlier parts of the record does not really feel like it was carried on here. The lyrics aren’t all that great, and all the choruses are is just Richard meowing. The song does have a few good moments, but it does not bring the track up in the ranks very far. The next track, “Barfight Revolution” just seems plain out of place. Although it is a nice break from the peaceful and happy/depressing acoustic stuff, the heaviness of the song does not have a real place in the album.
But flaws aside, “The Dust of Retreat” is probably one of the best albums in my collection. It is full of emotion, beauty, and the occasional energy. We have the brilliant instrumental work on “Skeleton Key” and “Quiet as a Mouse”, the fantastic lyrical and vocal performance on “Vampires In Blue Dresses” and “Jen Is Bringing the Drugs”, and plenty of birthday cakey goodness throughout. Everything on this album is perfectly likeable, no matter who is listening to it. There is something in this album that everybody can enjoy. Whether you prefer the indie-poppiness of The Arcade Fire, the pop-punkiness of Brand New, or even some of the unique instrumentation of Dredg, there is something in this album that not just feels, but is made, for just us.
A Sea Chantey of Sorts
Vampires in Blue Dresses
Quiet as a Mouse
Jen is Bringing the Drugs
Dress Me Like a Clown
On a Freezing Chicago Street
A Light On a Hill
Talking in Code
(That’s ¾ of the tracklist. That’s saying something.)