The past few years have been tumultuous ones for Margot & the Nuclear So and Sos. After signing to Epic records in 2007, the band and the label had different ideas about their major label debut. As a compromise, both visions of the album were simultaneously released as Animal! and Not Animal, respectively. Since the release of the two Animal albums, however, the lineup of Margot & the Nuclear So and Sos has experienced drastic changes, and the band switched from the majors back to the indies, with their latest album, Buzzard, coming from their own home, Mariel Recordings.
If the simultaneous Animals release was a departure from the orchestral chamber pop sound of their debut, The Dust of Retreat, then Buzzard takes this shift in style even further. Gone are the sections of strings and horns, and in their place are guitar-driven songs. On Buzzard opener Birds, guitar and the falsetto of frontman Richard Edwards make the quiet-loud dynamic from chorus to verse without any help from baroque instrumentation. The raw melodies of New York City Hotel Blues and Will You Love Me Forever are vaguely reminiscent garage rock, but not enough to draw obvious comparisons to other bands currently on the scene, as the band had to endure with their chamber pop. When instrumental playfulness does surface, it’s in the form of a slide guitar on album highlight Claws Off.
Most surprising about Buzzard is its humorous nature, such as on the surreally comical Tiny Vampire Robot and the absurdly titled Earth to Aliens: What Do You Want?. A clip that seems to have come from one of those unintentionally hilarious sexual education videos from yesteryear, warning of the dubious connection between intercourse and madness, serves as the intro to Your Lower Back, and the song closes with a sampled recording of a girl disclosing in an interview that she began working at a strip club on her 18th birthday. The voice of Richard Edwards is perfectly suited for songs of longing, and when its coupled with a folksy strum on Lunatic, Lunatic, Lunatic, he comes across as truly despondent. However, as the story in Lunatic unfolds, it is revealed to be something darkly comedic, with the longing behind Edwards voice as the key element to the joke.
While dark humor prevails, not everything on Buzzard is fun and games. Laughs take a backseat to sincerity on delicate album closer I Do, on which Edwards reveals an affecting vulnerability. When a band changes its musical direction, there is a tendency for fans and critics to either hail it as a brilliant artistic evolution or deride it as a failed experiment, an artist losing the plot, or even selling out. The new sound of Margot & the Nuclear So and Sos on Buzzard occupies a middle ground: Its no better or worse than that which came before it. Buzzard is a sometimes disjointed album that feels more like a collection of songs than a cohesive unit when taken as a whole, but is a refreshing change of pace and includes some memorable moments.