The Dust of Retreat

Band: Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s
Album: The Dust of Retreat
Best song: “Talking in Code” and “Skeleton Key” are fantastic. “Quiet as a Mouse” is wonderful. “Dress Me Like a Clown” is nice.
Worst song: “Paper Kitten Nightmare” is stupid.

I used to have XM Radio, largely because terrestrial radio sucks — especially in DC — and also because I wanted to listen to baseball games. It was great for my old job, because I had to drive to my old job everyday. Anyway, one of the many stations I enjoyed on XM was XMU, which was supposed to be the indie rock/college radio station-style station.

XMU mostly sucked when I listened to it, though I imagine I hold that view because XMU played a whole lot of Helio Sequence and not much post-rock. However, I did try to like it and was rewarded with Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s.

Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s are not Battles. Not even close. Richard Edwards doesn’t do much outside of standard rock instrumentation, save for the well-placed cello on the record’s best tracks. Similarly, his voice isn’t worlds different from the usual indie rock whisper.

But, The Dust of Retreat has that wonderful mix of melancholy and sweet only found in certain brands of indie rock. The album’s lyrics deal with the slightly regretful (“Jen is Bringin’ the Drugs”), the sad (“Dress Me Like a Clown”) and the mildly vitriolic (“Vampires in Blue Dresses”), all while keeping an earnestness to be admired.

“Skeleton Key” exemplifies this well. The song’s regretful opening lines (“I did a sick, sick thing to my love/My lack of loyalty, it swallowed her up.”) falls into a drunken explanation (“And I miss you less and less everyday/This stream of whiskey helps to wash you away.”), eventually ending up in vitriol (“And it’s clear to see/You’re nothing special/You’re a skeleton key.”). The song’s overall breakup message is nearly universal and beautifully bathed in a cello melody line and a lilting acoustic guitar part, all led by Edwards’ sweet voice.

The rest of the album follows suit, largely. “Dress Me Like a Clown” is a nice little “Skeleton Key” knockoff. “On a Freezing Chicago Street” is more upbeat and powerful, while “Quiet as a Mouse” features a half-aggressive Edwards asserting himself (“When I awoke/I was alive in somebody’s room/I felt life and love and hope infesting my bones/Wake up, you’ve got a lot of things to do/Wake up, the sun is rising without you.”) after a one-nighter.

The album’s other highlight is the penultimate song on the set, “Talking in Code,” another breakup song, from the other side. The song begins as a simple singer/songwriter bit, but builds as Edwards recounts the veiled conversations between lovers as the end nears. The song breaks down as Edwards intones the final bits:

And your voice cracks with the lack of piano
you keep moving, where are you going?
Baby, were long gone
Yeah, were long gone

Like “Skeleton Key,” it’s a spot on breakup record, finding lost love in a cello and building guitars. Edwards’ gift, albeit not revolutionary, is extracting those small relationship pieces and turning them into wonderful songcraft.

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  • About Me

    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

    I used to review each of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Now I'm writing about albums I own.

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