Review Summary: A romper of an album that truly lives up to the term "indie rock."
For potential listeners of Margot & The Nuclear So And So's, I must raise a few questions: Do you have something against hipsters? Do you even know what a hipster is anymore? Maybe you've just got something against people who are unaware of the irony in their mustaches?
Listening to Buzzard made me ask some personal questions as well: Do I think the young lady on the cover is attractive? It's okay to think female
hipsters are attractive, right? But then, should I
have something against this album? Why is the band name written in the same font that was used for the Where The Wild Things Are
film (another hipster venture!)?
You see, I like Margot & The Nuclear So And So's but fu
ck sometimes I wonder if they're too hip for me. Do I really understand what they're talking about? Normally I wouldn't ask a question like that because it's not particularly important. You don't necessarily need to understand how a song works, how the sounds are made, or what the lyrics refer to in order to enjoy it. With some bands though, I feel like I'm supposed
to. The reason for this is easy to pinpoint with some bands, like maudlin Of The Well; with all the hubbub that's been raised about the astral plane and lucid dreaming, you do sort of feel you should understand it to really feel the full effect of the music. With a band like Margot & The Nuclear So And So's, it gets harder. I might be inclined to refer to trends with bands such as The National - indie bands who see stratospheric rises in popularity in a relatively short time, leading to increased scrutiny, criticism, and speculation about whether or not they deserve the spotlight. Things like that can have a profound effect on the way new listeners feel toward the artist, whether the listener realizes it or not. Such hullabaloos are almost impossible to ignore. Margot, however, are not particularly popular, and they certainly have not reached the level of a band such as the aforementioned National.
So it's got to be something inherent in their music, right? I'll be honest: I'm not sure that I ever made it through Margot's debut album The Dust Of Retreat. But I have spent a lot of time scrolling past the album in iTunes to get to their subsequent release, Not Animal, so I'm familiar with the song titles, such as "Jen Is Bringin' The Drugs" and "On A Freezing Chicago Street." Even without listening to the album, I think, These guys must know
something, because they sing about drugs and Chicago and barfight revolutions. I am saying all this because there is a stigma attached to bands like Margot & The Nuclear So And So's. Hipster culture becomes more prevalent in the media every day, which has a negative impact on bands like Margot, because the people who represent hipsters are mostly stupid, ugly idiots who ride bikes without the proper safety equipment and cultivate their sideburns like apiologists cultivate beehives. The conclusion that I've come to is that most of this stigma stems from terms such as "indie." People see an indie band like Margot as hipster fodder because hipsters love indie. Other genres do not face this problem. After all, The Fall Of Troy made multiple references to Mark Z. Danielewski's House Of Leaves
on their album Doppelganger, but no one ever accused them of being a hipster band.
I think those are necessary points to consider for new listeners of Margot's music, because Buzzard isn't exactly going to change any of those stigmas. The band's earlier music was fairly laid back, although they weren't averse to the occasional romp in the grungy, fuzzy hay with songs like "Shivers (I've Got 'Em)" and "Cold, Kind and Lemon Eyes." Buzzard is contrarian; the band stabs and stomps their way through the majority of the songs with vigor and vitality. "Claws Off" is relentless, managing to make a slide guitar sound rockin', as frontman Richard Edwards sings, "I'm not gonna say good luck when what I wanna say is get fu
cked." Opener "Birds" is perhaps the album's best song, fooling the listener with its lullaby-like intro before it jettisons the happy mood into the void with distortion and Edwards' always-strong falsetto. "Birds" is what this band has always excelled at: it has its quiet moments of reflection, it has loud moments of fu
ck-you-up heavy indie, and it's got that ever-present noise in the background that gives the song a spine. "Tiny Vampire Robot," with its bite-sized quotables ("Oh tiny vampire robot, fill the dance floor with blood.") and reverb-heavy sound, is delightfully enigmatic and a real pleasure to listen to, even if it doesn't make much sense.
Buzzard's flaw is that it rarely feels like an album. The songs never really seem to be in sync with one another. Don't misunderstand me - I've got no problem with a good collection of songs - which Buzzard is - but Margot's strength in the past has been their ability to mix a myriad of sounds and instruments into a mood that was prevalent no matter what the tempo or volume of the individual songs were. Buzzard certainly succeeds in beating you over the head with loud, strong tracks, but I can't help but miss the quieter moments of songs like "Broad Ripple Is Burning" and "Hip Hip Hooray." Still, I can't fault the band for pushing their sound to its limit. While making the assertion that I'm aware of what Margot & The Nuclear So And So's were trying to do on this album would be hypocritical at this point, it definitely does feel like they accomplished it, whatever it was. Songs like "Birds" don't come about from any half-as
sed recording session. There are many moments of genuine emotion and inspiration on this album, and "My Baby (Cares For The Animals)" never fails to elicit a real smile from me. I can't deny reactions like that, no matter the stigma or notion attached to a band.
In The Art Of McSweeney's
, Dave Eggers gives some salient advice for writers who want to be published in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern
: "My advice to any aspiring writer is to do some research and write about something other than relationships and living in New York." Over the years, Margot & The Nuclear So And So's have written a ton about relationships and New York (and Chicago!), but they certainly have done it in their own way. The thing about this band is that their sound, their album art, their lyrics, etc., all seem to be inspiring me to ascribe some deeper meaning to the music the band makes. But mostly the way I enjoy Margot, et al. is to sit back, sing along, and try to hit the high notes without sounding sharp. Because most of the time, their beautifully cacophonous, musically inventive brand of indie is capable of punching through preconceived notions of what their music is and what they're trying to do. Of course, that's not to say that I don't wonder about songs like "Tiny Vampire Robot" sometimes. Do songs like that mean something?
Do they have to?