Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s, once a sprawling octet featuring horn players, violinists, and two different percussionists, have made a habit of redefining themselves with each album. After releasing The Dust of Retreat in 2005 (and reissuing it to a wider audience in 2006), the group ditched its chamber pop approach and recorded Animal!, a textured sophomore album that couched the band’s pretty melodies in sparse, Elliott Smith-worthy balladry and indie rock experimentation. More changes are afoot on Buzzard, Margot’s first record as a slimmed-down sextet. By now, it’s become more than clear that Richard Edwards is the ringleader. He’s the vocalist, the songwriter, the person with enough authority to dissolve the entire band and rebuilt it from scratch, using two previous bandmates and three new ones to create a lineup devoid of strings and horn players. Under Edwards’ direction, the Nuclear So and So’s become a lean, raw rock band on Buzzard, which doubles as the band’s first genuine rock album.
This is still a Margot record, though, meaning there’s enough eccentricity and surrealism to keep things unexpected. Edwards is a volatile personality, capable of crooning an ode to self-pity one minute and lashing out at a lover the next. “If you wanna go, get lost/If you wanna stay, shut up,” he sings during “Claws Off.” Several songs later, he half-heartedly tries to patch things up, explaining, “I’m never gonna break your heart/Not unless I have to.” Electric guitars anchor nearly every song, and a clarinet solo on “Tiny Vampire Robot” is one of the only hints at The Dust of Retreat’s orchestral sound. It’s easy to miss the early days, when Edwards combated his melancholia with the sweeping swells of a seven-piece chamber pop band, but this is a different band altogether -- not better, not worse, just entirely different.