Friday, November 14, 2008

Not Animal - Margot & the Nuclear So and So's

Not Animal

Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s
Epic Records.

SCQ Rating: 76%

In a trial I’ll call “Why Does Indie-Rock need you?”, I’ve put Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s to the test. Why do we need this Indianapolis-bred group of undergraduates? “They are eight members strong.” Who cares! “They write chamber-pop songs and are named after Paltrow’s character in The Royal Tenenbaums.” Ack, I say!! “They don’t get along with their major label.” Lord help me! There’s no denying it: on first glimpse, this awkwardly named band doesn’t grab you with any peculiars or gimmickry. In fact, with no pretense beyond a possible misnomer, I’m tempted to nominate Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s for breakthrough indie-rock act of the year on the very basis that their music talks more than they do. Strange then, that a band so under the radar is both promoting a disc of surprising ambition and ignoring a second that their label insisted upon.

Confused? Here’s the deal: both Animal and Not Animal were released on the same day, the former encompassing the songs and sequencing the band approves, the latter – this one! – being at the insistence of Epic Records. Which is better, I cannot say (having not heard Animal), but regardless… Not Animal suggests that Epic Records have compiled a strong selection of Margot... tunes. The breezy ‘German Motor Car’ and broken-ballad ‘Broadripple is Burning’ are early nods to the band’s melodic core and a fair warning that there are catchy chords abound on Not Animal. These are folk songs embellished, featuring multi-instrument arrangements that Sufjan would’ve steered off the mountain with. Part of Margot…’s appeal is that they don’t; by ignoring some gratuitous impulses, ‘As Tall As Cliffs’ is kept sociable and exuberant.

That isn’t to say that Not Animal doesn’t suffer from some serious over-production. Even the folkier songs can feel polished to a fault, with strings popping into verses or manicured distortion jumping aboard climaxes. Both can be incorporated swimmingly, like on ‘Cold, Kind, and Lemon Eyes’, but these opposing textures truly disagree by the record’s third act. In what can be squarely blamed on Epic executives, ‘Pages Written on a Wall’ and ‘Shivers (I’ve Got ‘Em)’ stand shoulder to shoulder as the lone, brash rockers here. If this heavy sound is part of the Margot… canon, we should’ve had a taste of it before the ninth and tenth song. That sequencing-blunder aside, these tunes are also a display of Margot…’s less interesting side; their inclusions lending a bloated feel to Not Animal.

Aside from Animal being released exclusively on vinyl, I’m content to side with the major-label version because it’s the slimmer of the two (Animal boasts nineteen tracks!). Perhaps their raucous material makes more sense or the sequencing balances their ambition better when ingested on the band’s version. Still, Not Animal deserves a loyal fanbase - one that is likely amassing as I type – and more than the refreshing lack of press I currently find. Indie-rock needs Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s, if only to fill its weary cracks of postures and pastiche with some honest-to-god catchy tunes. Your I-Pod (or the inner-Garden State-lover in you) is looking for some of this, whichever record you choose.

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