Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s – Rot Gut, Domestic

written by: April 9, 2012
Release Date:


One of the best episodes of the FX comedy Louie revolves around the titular comedian Louis CK talking an old buddy whom he came up with in the comedy world, and who has been a road-dog comedian for twenty years, into not killing himself. It’s a harrowing, and almost completely unfunny moment in which Louis comes to appreciate the life that he made for himself, not having to relentlessly tour and sleep in his car. His efforts to prevent his friend from offing himself, however, are somewhat less successful. His life has devolved into a series of diminishing returns along the highways of middle America. His punk comedian ethos has come back to haunt him.

Certainly not to say they should off themselves, Margot and Nuclear So & So’s resemble Louis CK’s downtrodden pal in the way their career has progressed. Crowned a promising umpteenth-wave indie rock band, curated by larger scenesters Manchester Orchestra, Kevin Devine (and by extension, co-signed by Brand New), Margot found themselves taking their white van’d talents to the festival circuit. Their first album, The Dust of Retreat, was typical barre-chord heavy indie rock fare with flairs of Modest Mouse and Weezer experimentation, and their stints at Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo hinted at possibilities for a bigger audience. Theirs was a hard row to hoe – indie-rock band trying to surpass their own influences – but Margot seemed poised to make the jump.

Fast forward to 2012, and nothing really has changed. The band has played a few headlining tours, but previous few big stages, and they still occupy that middle ground of afternoon playing festival act whose sound has gotten conspicuously weirder, not necessarily better. Rot Gut, Domestic, the band’s fourth album (well, fifth if you count 2008s Animal! and Not Animal! as two separate albums) will likely do nothing to move the dial on their holding pattern of fame. Just so, Domestic isn’t better than Margot’s best (Dust of Retreat), but isn’t a marketed sellout to shamelessly move up a level (you all know who the major players in Fun are right?). Instead, Domestic is a casually interesting record with twinges of new sounds to satiate fans and add something mildly spicier to the recipe of their live show.

In true child of Manchester Orchestra fashion, Rot Gut trades among the dark, weird and seedy spots of the indie-rock mind. The first two tracks, the dirgy but endearing “Disease and Tobacco Free” and the strangely scary “Books About Trains,” deal directly with a lackadaisical slacker voice who still cloys for something greater than himself. Nothing remotely new, but done in such a Margot way as to engender fans to Rot Gut’s mission statement. This time around the Weezer references are easier to spot, as “Prozac Rock,” “Fisher of Men” and “Arvydas Sabonis” dive into the Pinkerton era heavy on the heavy hook pop-rock. It shouldn’t be completely surprising that this hooky rock are the best songs Margot has done in years, even if “Sabonis” pats itself a little too heavily on the back for making a cogent narrative out of a Lithuanian proto-stretch center who played for the Portland Trailblazers fifteen years ago.

Elsewhere the pickings are slimmer – “Shannon” and “The Devil” shimmy a little bit too much and end up slimy and ugly, even for indie-rock. “A Journalist Falls in Love with Deathrow Inmate #16” holds a cute punch-line and the soft rock that Margot have always been underrated for, but the mystique wears off after a few listens. Ill-advised forays into Brit-rock (“Coonskin Cap”) or just incongruous acoustic based festival fodder (“Frank Left” and “Ludlow Junk Hustle”) pock mark the album’s hookier positives and leave a stale, if mildly satiating aftertaste.

Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s still do their indie-rock better than many of their peers (Manchester Orchestra, in particular, have fallen off a cliff), so comparing them to a road comedian who wants to kill himself may be a slight overreach. But the fact remains that Rot Gut, Domestic is a fan’s album, fit not for a larger audience but for the people who get up earlier in the day and trek from their RVs to see the little band in their back pocket play another medium sized festival stage.

Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s – Rot Gut, Domestic tracklist:

  1. “Disease and Tobacco Free”
  2. “Books About Trains”
  3. “Shannon”
  4. “Prozac Rock”
  5. “A Journalist Falls in Love With Death Row Inmate #16”
  6. “Frank Left”
  7. “Fisher of Men”
  8. “Arvydas Sabonis”
  9. “Coonskin Cap”
  10. “Ludlow Junk Hustle”
  11. “The Devil”
  12. “Christ”