Margot & The Nuclear So & Sos created quite a stir this year. Over the past year the band recorded 21 songs in Chicago with producer extraordinare Brian Deck. Once the recordings were complete, Margot put together the record they hoped to release and sent it off to their new major label, Sony Epic. The label promptly disagreed.
The label then asked for all the recordings and put together the record they believed would sell. Thus Animal and Not Animal were born. After months of fighting and threats to release the entire bunch of song out to the internet, the label and band finally reached a compromise. Not Animal would be released by the label in all formats and Animal would be released on vinyl and digital only.
The dual-released caused some commotion among critics, many not knowing which record they should review. Some came to the consensus that a combination of the two would have been better than the convoluted dual-release. Fans, however, responded. The albums sold far more in their first weeks than the label projections.
Some of those critics may also believe the dual-release to be pure ego at work, but lead singer Richard Edwards has never fully embraced the idea of becoming a star. He sees himself as an artist and simply hears and sees his vision, tries to execute it and then disperse it to as many people as possible. Maybe in the case of these records, digging in his heels worked against him. Maybe without the battle with the label, the record that could've been might have ended up somewhere in between these two records that were released. Obviously it's hard to know for sure. I do know Edwards suffers from anxiety and is often reclusive. On stage, he is often combative or indifferent, likely his way of dealing with that anxiety, but one thing Edwards does understand is a good pop song and good songwriting. The music is always introspective, honest and smart. Occasionally the enormity of the band overshadows or overpowers the strength within the songs, often it adds layers that compliment and complete. Conversely, left on his own, Richard has always been one to simply record something and let it lay as it is - a cough here or a misplayed note there rarely bothers Edwards. Working with big production obviously took Edwards in directions he wasn't used to. Maybe too often. As individual entities, these two albums may not reflect the best message for Edwards or Margot & The Nuclear So & Sos, or maybe those two creative entities (Edwards and the band as a whole) are actually at odds with what that message actually is or should be. Chunks and pieces of the two releases do, without a doubt though, show us the talent and potential this still very young band possesses.
When Richard Edwards and Emily Watkins, keyboardist for Margot, visited The Pop Machine studio to record these four songs with us, they were quiet but relaxed. The two knocked out these four songs rather quickly, with only one retake, and then we all hit the local record store. You can see, without all the bells and whistles, the quality of these songs remains strong - a testament to Edwards' skill as a songwriter. But that's not to say I don't love the full band versions just as much. Maybe I'm just as much at odds internally with what direction I believe this band should take as well.
Already working on new material, that question - the path this band decides upon, in the face of this year's struggles, will be an interesting thing to watch in 2009.