Margot & the Nuclear So and So's - Real Naked Girls
First, a little background. Margot & the Nuclear So and So's are a 'musical collective' from Indianapolis headed by Richard Edwards (There is no Margot, that name apparently referencing the character played by Gwyneth Paltrow in The Royal Tennenbaum's). Their first album The Dust of Retreat was critically well received in the States but they are little known elsewhere. The release of their second album was delayed after wrangling with their label Epic over track listing. Eventually a compromise was reached. The bands choice was released on vinyl entitled Animal!, whilst the label's preference was released as Not Animal on vinyl and CD. It is the latter that I have been listening to (and which contains five songs from the band's selection) and whatever the disagreements there is a lot to admire. My suspicion was that the label would pick tracks more likely to make the band palatable, risking the loss of some of their essence along the way, but if you're new to the band like me it's probably not a bad place to start.
The band's use of interesting instrumentation has lead to comparisons with Arcade Fire. Violins and brass make regular appearances along with other slightly more obscure sounds and the arrangements often have that collective feel to them where several people seem to be banging away at something or other as their voices chorus together. Riding above this Edwards has a surprisingly pure, clear voice with which he sings often very unclear lyrics, by which I mean the kind of story-telling poetry which doesn't explain itself (check out the pages on Songmeanings.com and see the different things people think just the opening track, 'A Children's Crusade on Acid' might mean)
Tracks like 'Cold, Kind and Lemon Eyes', 'As Tall As Cliffs' and 'Hello, Vagina' do sound a little like Arcade Fire but also reminded me of Conor Oberst's work as Bright Eyes and an album called Self Help Serenade by Marjorie Fair; influenced by folk but filled with energy and passion (oh, and also the historical feel to work by The Decembrists). Just when you think you know how the whole album will sound you get the church organ which begins 'Real Naked Girls', and seems to usher in a peaceful atmosphere but all that changes as an angelic chorus joins in and Edwards sings 'There was dark crimson blood/It had covered the carpets, the screams were distorted/And that old Christian judge/Gave out fifty to life like he was handing out chocolate/But it's too late to flee/But you can help me breathe/Through this gruesome scene.' Very unsettling stuff, simple and effective.
After that the second half of the album attempts to crank up the volume and impact a little. Heavy guitars and mariachi trumpets drive 'Pages Written On A Wall' nicely, but things go a little far on the horrible 'The Shivers (I Got 'Em)', especially as Edwards hollers 'I want to gouge out your eyes, splinter your spine' and other lines which could be accused of misogyny. His voice isn't best suited to these tracks anyway and they leave a nasty taste which sours the sweetly sung closer 'Hip Hip Hooray'. So in fact the label's choices didn't necessarily make for a palatable taster, but the poor finish aside, there's lots to enjoy on this album. I find myself intrigued to hear the other side of the story.