On their debut album, Margot & the Nuclear So & So’s present the kind of idealistic vision of New York City’s Greenwich Village that can only be imagined in earnest by someone living in the Midwest.
Far removed from the boutiques and falafel joints that currently inhabit the neighborhood, the Indiana-bred band presents a vision of what the area might have felt, sounded, and looked like in the 1960s. In this case, the majority of the population was apparently well read, and either devastatingly melancholy/drug-addled or alarmingly optimistic.
To create a sound that broad in its spectrum, Margot founders Richard Edwards and Andy Fry recruited six other musicians: Jesse Lee (cello), Emily Watkins (piano), Hubert Glover (trumpet), Chris Fry (drums), Casey Tennis (drums, assorted other banged-on objects), and Tyler Watkis (electric bass). The resulting debut, The Dust of Retreat, is a chamber pop confection that makes occasional detours into modern rock.
The tracks act as mini-screenplays which unfold into romantic sagas (“Skeleton Key,” “Jen Is Bringin’ the Drugs”), or include detours into dialogue (“On a Freezing Chicago Street”) are highly literate with the exception of the saccharine “Paper Kitten Nightmare” which features Edwards crooning “meow meow meow” — seriously. On “Quiet as a Mouse,” nearly every member of the band gets a turn in the spotlight with string-heavy sections, a horn solo, a piano-driven opening, and a grizzled, guitar-heavy chorus in which Edwards warns, “Wake up, the sun is rising without you.”
It’s not an album you’re likely to hear in any Village venue now, but it’s just wistful enough that you can picture that leather-clad kid on Macdougal wearing tweed and quoting Burroughs.