Margot & the Nuclear So and So's

Rot Gut, Domestic

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On their fourth album, Rot Gut, Domestic (fifth if you include Not Animal as an album instead of a companion piece to its preferred version Animal!) Chicago indie crew Margot and the Nuclear So and So's rough up the chamber pop sound of their previous releases. The band's involvement with Brian Deck and Tim Rutili, each members of both Califone and Red Red Meat, is apparent from the first strains of the trudging "Disease Tobacco Free." The song's fuzzy lope is an updated take on the feedbacky slowcore of '90s bands like Codeine or Red Red Meat themselves. Kick-off single "Prozac Rock" follows this '90s-heavy influence with a lazy sunburst of overdriven guitars and west coast imagery that end up sounding like a happier Afghan Whigs than the overblown Arcade Fire-isms of earlier records. There are still more than enough internet-era influences at play, however. Any band so obsessed with filmmaker Wes Anderson that they name an album after his favorite Muppet is going to have some unshakable traces of Radiohead, Bright Eyes, and well, Wes Anderson soundtracks. Principle songwriter Richard Edwards toys with different approaches to this overused set of baseline influences. His random howls and interjections of manic laughter on the drunkenly woozy "Shannon" give the song a legitimately uneasy feeling. The story-song "A Journalist Falls in Love with Death Row Inmate #16" shakes up the album's continuity with dark lyrics over a quirky, would-be traditional country & western song, but this over-stylized nugget in the context of a highly stylized album ends up coming off as disingenuous kitsch. This becomes the main problem with Margot and the Nuclear So and So's. Even in their best moments, every move feels overly calculated and wraps up so nicely that even what are intended as unpredictable turns are pretty predictable. While the smiling-through-the-tears sentimentality of "Coonskin Cap" is pleasant enough, its pristine pop hooks and perfectly placed emotional climaxes seem completely staged and thusly render the song instantly forgettable. Even the more unhinged moments of cacophonous '90s-touched noise rock ("The Devil") get compressed into tiny packages as shiny as the moody chamber pop ("Frank Left," "Christ") and the entire album rushes by in an inoffensive blur.

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