"'Call For Cull' is a dystopian dance song that I wrote days after the election," says Marcus Striplin of the first single from his upcoming solo debut under the name Margaret Chavez, a tribute to the artist's mother. "I took a long walk and it kinda washed over me, this idea that modern civility could just roll over and die and that a new way of life could begin if we didn’t swivel our heads on straight and practice empathy and kindness."
“A Loupe” is a 32-minute, continuously mixed ten-track song cycle arriving under the name Margaret Chavez, a pseudonym that acts a memorial tribute to the mother of the album’s creator, Austin-based songwriter Marcus William Striplin.
Striplin’s name is familiar to anyone who has followed the indie rock scene that emerged out of Texas in the early 2000’s, specifically Dallas, where Striplin co-founded the band named after the suburb Pleasant Grove in 1999.
In its relatively brief half-decade-or-so initial run, Pleasant Grove earned praise for the “simmering psychedelia” (KUTX, 98.9) of its “songs of broken hearts and broken voices” (Dallas Observer) that, according to MOJO, mixed the “down and out ache of Texas country as well as the sonic outbursts of Neil Young.” In a four-star review, UNCUT dubbed Pleasant Grove a “mark of excellence in modern Americana.”
Whether or not Pleasant Grove broke-up or went on hiatus is irrelevant now, because in 2016, working with Grammy-winning producer Stuart Sikes (Loretta Lynn, White Stripes, Cat Power), the band completed and released the album that it had abandoned ten years earlier.
Right on cue, the newly completed “old” album The Heart Contortionists reminded listeners of what they loved about Pleasant Grove – a folk band’s command of melody with a psych band’s command of reverb – and quickly drew the same kind of love that the band had walked away from a decade prior.
Consequence of Sound called Pleasant Grove’s return “triumphant,” the glossy Dallas-based monthly D Magazine proclaimed The Heart Contortionists “beautiful,” describing songs with “an intensity that sneaks up on you and a heat that never goes away,” and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram summed things up with a nod to Striplin specifically, saying Pleasant Grove’s “melancholy folk-rock, blessed with shadows, brass and Striplin’s plaintive voice — are breathtaking.”
Two years later, Striplin has made a record that surpasses his best work.
“A Loupe” is everything a fan of Striplin’s songwriting and arrangement ideas (here realized by visionary producer, Erik Wofford [Explosions In The Sky, The Black Angels]) would expect and more. With the very personal context of a solo album to work in, the work is indeed, very personal, and “A Loupe” is better for this controlled creative environment.
Even something as the small 15-second guitar phrase mid-way through album highlight “Strange Buoy’s” is enough to convey the power of the album, which Striplin simply describes as “one big song.” Stringing together ten tunes as one is no doubt a “concept album” conceit, and “A Loupe” is one.
To quote Striplin again, “this is actually a ‘concept’ record,” so there. And it wouldn’t be the same any other way.
While each of the ten tracks on “A Loupe” can stand on its own, as a whole, especially with the voices of senior citizens – discovered by Striplin on a discarded cassette tape – acting as song transitions sprinkled throughout, “A Loupe” commands even greater appreciation in full.
20-plus years of Striplin’s recording life coalesce in these songs and stories about every kind of explosion and schism the heart can fathom, including the poignant “Gone, Gone, Gone” in which Striplin speaks to his mother directly, singing, “You raise a child / You make it smile / Just for a little, little while” before bidding her — and what sounds like other pains in his life — a final goodbye.
“A Loupe” by Margaret Chavez (Marcus William Striplin) arrives on Jan. 19th, 2018 via Goliad Media Group.