Margot & the nuclear so and so’s
For seven years now, Margot and the nuclear so and so’s – led by singer and songwriter Richard Edwards – have been creating music that swirls with fear and doubt and tension and beauty. Their music was born out of Indianapolis with the lushly melancholic The Dust of Retreat (2005), came of age with the bittersweet duo Animal/Not Animal (2008), and most recently arrived with the primal Buzzard (2010).
Edwards saw Buzzard as the beginning of a “panic pop” trilogy: albums filled with a gnarled version of the pop music of his childhood, loosely tied together by the concepts of aging and starting over. For the second installment, he took his notebook full of song fragments and went to the place that held some of his most vivid memories of calm, a mere five months after Buzzard’s release. Subsisting only on aloe vera extract and clam chowder, Edwards spent 26 days burying himself in sand, sleeping outdoors, and finishing a batch of songs inspired by childhood, fatherhood, and bad stomach pain. Calm evenings bore panicked music.
Because when Margot ended the touring cycle for Buzzard, which included multiple headlining tours and a run supporting The Twilight Singers, Edwards was ill. Plagued with stomach pain, he boarded a bus and headed to Pismo Beach, CA. Over the years, Pismo had unintentionally become an oasis during Margot tours. The Nukes’ battered black school bus, as if divinely inspired, always found its way there. They would spend a night or two by the fire, listening to music, eating clam chowder, drinking beer and recharging. With each tour, the band’s collective narrative grew and the town became more mythical, especially on bad days; “Pismo” was conjured up and whispered into the ears of a grumpy, hung-over drummer, the guitar player sighed it while replacing blown tubes, the keyboard player chanted it in his sleep, the bus’ engine grunted it. A place to rest. The end of the road.
On the last, alcohol-filled night in Pismo, Edwards wrote “The devil” and “Christ” in succession, and scribbled “rot gut, domestic” on the cover of his notebook and “panic pop” on the back. In the morning, he hitched a ride back to his adopted hometown of Chicago with a Bible salesman who told him, “Times have gotten bad.”
Rot Gut, Domestic was recorded over a 10-day period at Chicago’s Electrical Audio studio and the band’s own Queensize Twin Aire studio in Indianapolis. At the helm was John Congleton (St. Vincent, The Walkmen), who had expressed an interest in working with the Nukes over a series of emails with Edwards. Congleton and the band turned the guitars up and produced an album filled with lyrics in turn sweet and sinister. Rot Gut, Domestic retains the distorted power of Buzzard but peels back another layer to reveal a rawer brand of grimy pop – first single “Prozac Rock” is a modern pop song’s frenetic, slightly spooky sister, while “Shannon” is a bleary-eyed, fuzzy bass stomp. Edwards’ writing has never been sharper, stuffed full of memorable hooks and clawing guitar lines on dark-humored songs that ponder a Lithuanian basketball star (“Arvydas Sabonis”), the death of a mentor (“Frank Left”) and a woman’s affair with a killer (“A Journalist Falls in Love”).
It’s 12 songs in 43 minutes and it’s Margot’s best album yet. It’s unsettled, but trying to let go. It’s a disquieting journey through Midwestern pubs. It’s anger and aggression dissipating through clenched teeth. It’s a longing to return to Pismo.