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MARGOT AND THE NUCLEAR SO AND SOS (Buy CDs by this artist)
The Dust of Retreat (Artemis) 2006

On its debut album, this intriguing Indianapolis ensemble melds touches of baroque art-folk with Richard Edward's lonely musings. Although the first track is called "A Sea Shanty of Sorts," Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos are like a less deliberately anachronistic Decemberists fronted by a resurrected Jeff Buckley. Over mostly acoustic instrumentation (melodica, cello, horns, guitar and drums), Edwards favors a crooning vocal that accentuates his imagistic lyrics. The riveting "Skeleton Key" benefits from a terse piano and cello introduction, before Edwards breaks into a lush, Rufus Wainwright-like chamber pop melody. The electric "Quiet as a Mouse" could be a Coldplay song without the Anglo accents. The meandering and the wordless backing vocals occasionally impart a druggie vibe, and some of the tracks have an overly casual, everything-but-the kitchen-sink feeling, but most of the record balances the instrumental experimentation with solid songwriting. Brothers Andy and Chris Fry, on electric guitar and drums, respectively, provide some songs with much-needed instrumental heft. The only problem, other than the album's late-night languor, is Edwards' treatment of women. It's hard to empathize with a narrator who muses, "I did a sick, sick thing to that girl," over one of his catchiest melodies.

[Michael Zwirn]