Margaret Chavez - Into An Atmosphere

Margaret Chavez - Into An Atmosphere


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Margaret Chavez’s new folk-rock opus, Into An Atmosphere, is a headphone masterpiece. 

From the very first track, it’s clear why Consequence of Sound, Mojo and Uncut have all been extolling the many virtues of project mastermind Marcus William Striplin — the music is undeniably ambitious, mixing Latin freak-folk rhythms with a topicality the micro-genre has never dared to approach, even in its heyday. 

But to call this record “folk” or “even folk rock” would be to curtail its progressive ethos, as Striplin weaves reverb-soaked guitars, undulating synths, and effervescent acoustic plucks to create what Uncut calls “a mark of excellence in Americana.”

Striplin’s barbed wit rises to the forefront, riding his gentle croon and lilting sonics past the kind of cliches that often accompany albums of such deep pathos and political awareness. Moving effortlessly from a scathing indictment of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the government stooges who enable it (“The Croupier’s Unite I.C.E.”) to a poignant narrative in which he assumes his mother’s point-of-view during her most harrowing moments (“Honeysuckles”), Striplin deftly balances his heartbreaking stories’ jarring content with dense sounds and creeping earworms. 

Mixing elements of modern indie rock, psychedelia, mid-2000s alt-country, and folk, Striplin croons over layers of chiming acoustics and burbling electronics, building his songs from comforting lullabies into the kind of cathartic anthems upon which Echo & the Bunnymen and The Cure built their careers. 

“H O R A,” arguably the album’s most rousing moment, demonstrates the best of Striplin’s capabilities: building a Spector-like wall of dissonance, kept at bay only by his voice’s coiled urgency. 

In the studio, helping to nurture Margaret Chavez’s ambition, was Striplin’s longtime recording partner Stuart Sikes (Cat Power, Loretta Lynn, The White Stripes, Phosphorescent), and mastering genius Greg Calbi (John Lennon, Tame Impala, The Strokes, Iggy Pop, David Bowie), as well as Paul Williams and Don Cento—all of whom brought clarity and ceaseless energy to the recording process. 

In tandem with Striplin’s songcraft, the efforts of this cadre of engineers are felt most powerfully on “Honeysuckles” and “The Croupiers Unite I.C.E.” The former opens with a stark and harrowing vision of death—“a snapped neck, a snapped neck in a truck / I watched my daddy die”—as Striplin narrates from his young mother’s perspective, detailing the horrific experience of watching her father die as she remained stuck upside down in the truck for two full hours, eyes locked on her dying father. 

Gentle acoustic guitar cascades through the song as synths zip in and out of focus, like a U.F.O. observing some desert-road horror show. Meanwhile the pitter-patter percussion works double time, cementing one of the album’s most breathtaking moments. “Honeysuckles” acts as not only a showcase for Striplin’s voice and songwriting but also the album’s attention to sonic detail. 

Synths buzz and whir, guitars moan, strings yearn, and not a decibel is underserved by the mix, an emphatic credit to the bevy of talent and expertise Margaret Chavez assembled in the studio.

Similarly, the scathing “The Croupiers Unite I.C.E.” stabs directly at the jugular of America’s corrupt brigade: “Their hands are forged in gold and their hearts are as cold.” Striplin himself pointedly admits that the song “is a ‘fuck you’ to I.C.E.,” and you can hear every inch of his middle finger rising in the way he holds the sibilance while singing “I.C.E.,” his clenched teeth barely holding an avalanche of epithets from pouring out onto the tape. 

But even songs bursting with ideas, like “Croupiers”—with its brilliant marriage of classic Roy Orbison rhythms and Will Oldham’s lonely campfire devotionals—can’t contain Margaret Chavez’s multitudes as Striplin touches on pulsating Gas-like ambience (“The Cheap River & The Broken Mirror”), stirring alt-country (“I Virgo”), and even throws in some undeniable indie-rock jams, replete with crushing linear drums, like the anthemic Broken Social Scene-indebted “H O R A.”

Born and raised in Texas, Striplin was fascinated with music from a young age but had to keep his distance due to an abusive father. Fortunately, his mother Margaret—the namesake of this recording project—noticed her son’s interest and bought him a small tape recorder from RadioShack. Using this cheap little device, young Striplin was able to record his favorite songs off the radio and then, tucked into his bed at night, listen quietly with his ear resting against the tiny built-in speaker. The tape recorder was strategically placed under his pillow, so his father couldn’t hear it. 

By the time he was 13, his mother bought him a guitar by paying a local bus boy at her serving job to bring back a guitar from his next trip to Mexico. Armed with an authentic mariachi guitar and newly free to indulge his fascination with music in the wake of his parents’ divorce, Striplin began forming bands immediately, eventually culminating in Pleasant Grove, which brought him his first taste of success as a musician. 

Since the creation of Margaret Chavez, Striplin has kept busy writing, recording, playing live, and personally and emotionally cleaning house, vehemently crediting therapy and sobriety before reassuringly insisting ”I’m not clean and sober, but I’m also not a mess anymore.” 

Now that Striplin has finally put some of his demons to rest, he’s been able to channel that catharsis into this new album, a work of focused anger and empathetic heart. Borne of internal conflict and depicting America’s analogous struggles, Into An Atmosphere speaks of hope, something the songwriter himself bashfully cops to: “I think it’s no coincidence it’s being released in an election year. 

Maybe there are people who are still on the fence, and they hear it and are like, ‘Oh, man—absolutely!’ It’s most certainly gonna gel with my circle, but I really hope it touches people who are lost.”