Margot And The Nuclear So And So's (MATNSAS) hail from "the depths of poverty and despair, far from the bright lights of Hollywood, tucked away in a decaying neighborhood somewhere in the Midwest." If there's any indication of how creative a band is, look to the band's bio that accompanies their CD. You can either hate the band because of their bio, or love them for it. But the worst possible reaction you could possibly have to a bio is to have no reaction at all. You want your bio to cause a reaction. I'll be honest when I say that I think most bios give me no reaction. I want a story, not a nostalgic fairy tale that makes the singer/songwriters sound like they are the next Lennon/McCartney. MATNSAS' bio made me love the band before I even heard the album. I know, I know, that's no reason to like a band, but after the first 30 seconds of MATNSAS' debut album, The Dust of Retreat, it's impossible to not like them.
Lead singer Richard Edwards sounds like a really cool Fran Healy. To most people, Travis' Fran Healy is the antithesis of cool. I agree with this thought, but Fran has a hell of a voice and Richard Edwards does what Fran Healy couldn't do right. He roughs it up a little bit to make it sound like he's trying to sing well.
The first track on the album, "A Sea Chanty Of Sorts," starts underwater and slowly comes up for air to acoustic guitars, drums rolls, and Richard Edwards' booming but timid voice. It's the perfect album opener, full of melancholy that turns your "joy into sorrow." But the album does not officially start until the second track, "Skeleton Key." The song starts off with a cello line that reminds me of something that my music teacher used to tell me in high school. Everyone loves the sound of the cello because it resembles a human voice and body more than any other instrument. It's shaped like a human and sounds like a human. Cello isn't used enough in music, and it's sure not used enough as a lead instrument like it is here.
"Jen Is Bringing The Drugs" reminds me one of my favorite teenager tunes, "Drug Buddy" by The Lemonheads. I know it's an easy comparison, but a love letter song about drugs usually can't work. There's something about rock stars singing about drugs that doesn't sit well with me. It's like listening to a bird telling you he's chirping. We get it. You do drugs. Great. But Edwards makes it work, just like Evan Dando did. It sounds like an extra track from Bright Eyes' I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning, but less New York and more Chicago. He's not trying to be cool; he's not trying to tell us he does drugs. He's simply writing a love letter to a night full of excess. Although this album strives on it's gothic Phil Spector production, it's this acoustic guitar and vocal track that becomes the album's centerpiece.
As the snow falls outside my window in New York, "On A Freezing Chicago Street" makes me want to quit my job (sorry Tripwire) and move back to my hometown. Do you ever hear a song for the first time and get nostalgic as though you've heard it a million times before? It's a song like "On A Freezing Chicago Street" that does it for me. It's not the best song on the album, but it evokes a kind of memory that everybody knows or wants to know. "We got drunk on cheap red wine in a paper cup/I was barely awake when you got home." I've never gotten drunk off cheap red wine in a paper cup on the streets of Chicago, but after hearing it come out of Edwards' mouth, I feel as though I was not only there, but the song was written about me.
Whether it's the cello, the sparse piano lines, the honest lyrics, the raw nostalgia, or the do-it-better-than-Fran-Healy vocals, this album strikes a chord. It's part Okkervil, it's part Bright Eyes, it's part Lemonheads, it's part OK Computer, it's part Gram Parsons, it's part Beatles. The first time I played the album, I forgot to take my iTunes off random and the mellotron intro of "Strawberry Fields" came on after the album opener. The transition was flawless. I guess that I can end on that note. Buy this album. Please.