Buzzard, the new album by Margot & the nuclear so and so's, is the band's most relaxed, direct, raw, playful and un-fussy effort to date. It sees lead singer and songwriter Richard Edwards achieving greater emotional complexity in his work by balancing anger and agitation with a droll sense of humor and a little bit of tenderness. And it retains some of the most essential elements of Margot's sound —smartly layered keyboards, angular but melodic electric guitar work, an innovative non-Americana use of slide guitar — while jettisoning the kind of superfluous clutter that comes along with an outsized band. The album, released Sept. 21 on the band's label Mariel Recordings, is the band's first since it downsized, moved to Chicago and lost its deal with Sony/Epic Records.
Spin would have Edwards' lyrics as "creepy" and defined by a "pervasive discomfort," but I'm going to suggest that they're a bit more sardonic than anything. Shall we really take seriously phrases like "Let's have a baby — let's make it evil," "Let's paint our teeth green / and shoot a snuff film" and "Tiny vampire robot, fill the dance floor with blood"? Well, no, and while Edwards most definitely takes his humor black, this record emerges as the band's funniest. "Your Lower Back" offers the best example of the band's more playful direction: It opens with what sounds like a clip from a hip sex ed film — "(Sex) can even take us to the brink of madness," reads the narrator — before leading into a gentle if troubled number in tribute to the speaker's absent lover that climaxes with the pretty much single entendre, "Your lower back haunts me every time I come."
If Animal, the band's prior album, found itself bogged down in its more obviously ambitious moments (namely film music pastiche), Buzzard accomplishes stylistic diversity without being too conspicuous or labored about it. Direct, almost grungy rockers like "Birds" and "New York City Hotel Blues" lead into songs more in the vein of their early indie-pop days ("Tiny Vampire Robot," which almost seems a parody of their earlier style, given the sincere treatment of such absurd lyrics; the tell-it-like-it-is "Lunatic, Lunatic, Lunatic") before the album closes with the intimate, solo with acoustic guitar ballad "I Do," which demonstrates the power and, perhaps, vulnerability of Edwards' voice.
Stream the entire album during the week of Sept. 21 at Spinner.com.