Back in 2006, I came across the soundtrack for an obscure documentary film titled The Trials of Darryl Hunt. I initially sought out the soundtrack to hear a live recording of the Red House Painters song Have You Forgotten from one of my favorite songwriters, Mark Kozelek. While browsing through the compilation’s many artists among the likes of composer Paul Brill, Andrew Bird, & Califone to mention a few, I noticed one band name that comically stood out from the rest; Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s.
Upon listening to track 14, a demo titled Things You Shouldn’t Do, I was intrigued by the song’s dynamic simplicity, pitting soft acoustic instrumentation up against brashly plain-spoken lyrical content:
“I was alone for days when I lived in that place
& I was a walking corpse when I saw your face
you turned me off…”
At the time, I was readying for a weekend trip to Charleston & decided to purchase the band’s recently released debut LP to aid my travels. From my experience, the allure of open highway driving & new music often complement each other well, & The Dust of Retreat certainly proved to be no exception. Margot’s sound was expansive, yet direct – as if a few art school dropouts had infiltrated a chamber orchestra performance & then collectively decided to score a Wes Anderson film. That first Margot record meant a lot to me at the time, & connected with me on many levels in the way it was able to convey a genuinely cynical angst amid the backdrop of an orchestral indie rock scaffolding – all bordering on a tone somewhere between punk & precious.
Following the independent success of their first album, Margot was then signed to Epic Records for the culmination of their follow-up, which would ultimately result in the release of two separate full lengths; one titled Animal! & the other, Not Animal! This dual release was implemented due to discrepancies between band & label regarding which songs were to be included on the record, with Epic preferring Not Animal’s track listing, & Margot preferring Animal’s. Yet despite all the contentious publicity, both records proved to be adeptly cultivated, fine tuning the elements of edge & enchantment that had made their debut so memorable. & as situational happenstance would have it, I was yet again in the midst of travel during the time Animal/Not Animal’s was released in 2008, which further favored my sentiment towards the work as a whole & my affinity towards this burgeoning brand of indie rock.
Margot went on to independently produce two records over the next four years (Buzzard & Rot Gut, Domestic), both favoring a more traditional lineup, foregoing the big band aesthetic while coarsening their jagged edges. These albums featured a louder, grungier side of side of the band – both musically & lyrically. & while I found the brusque presentation of this output commendable for its attitude, I ultimately felt like there was an intimate underpinning absent from the atmosphere of these records. I remember thinking, if only they could find a way to incorporate this trademark rough-hewn eccentricity with the intimacy of their first two records:
Enter Slingshot to Heaven.
For the band’s fifth studio album, they decided to self-produce the record, tracking it entirely at their home studio via analog two inch tape. Not only was the album self-produced, but it was also self-released on their label, Mariel Recording Company. Given the nature of analog tracking, much of the album’s 13 songs were recorded live, in addition to heavier use of acoustic guitars & layered vocals – all of which work together to express a distinctly comfortable vibe. Thematically, Slingshot to Heaven rides a conceptual through-line of nostalgia coupled with the acceptance of settling into adulthood – or as frontman Richard Edwards puts it, we wanted to “make a record that came across like a sci-fi dream about my decade of touring & making records obsessively while slowly becoming an adult, or at least something vaguely resembling one.”
Slingshot to Heaven excels in its ability to establish a lush melodic bedding to anchor its lofty, often humorously awkward lyrical musings like, “you’re the apple of my eye, let’s be a pair”, “I miss you when you’re gone, but I get so much done, I get whole TV series watched”, “so long Chicago junkie, I don’t have the brains to fry”, & “go to sleep you little creep, your father loves you but he needs peace”. Its verbal pallet is one peppered with references to various geographical locations, flying saucers, drunken parties, lovers, children, & hazy recollections all combined to weave a tapestry that’s both pleasant & off kilter simultaneously. & if that wasn’t enough, the band also shot a 45 minute documentary titled Tell Me More About Evil on 16mm film stock to accompany the record, featuring stripped down performances of the album tracks.
Of Margot’s now five full length studio albums, I find Slingshot to Heaven to be one of their most accomplished – not necessarily because it’s a “better” album than the rest, but because of its ability to take cues from its four predecessors, all while maintaining a level of immediacy & intimacy that’s comfortably refreshing. I’ve yet to hit the open highway with Slingshot in tow, though I’m quite content with where this record takes me; a weird & lovely destination all its own.