Release Date: Sep 17, 2013
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
With each new album, MGMT redefines not only its sound but its fundamental approach to songwriting. On Oracular Spectacular, each song was its own entity—demonstrations of a novel, natural talent for building smart, incredibly catchy choruses and verses. Congratulations was similar; each song stood on its own, but the individual efforts built into something cohesive and allusively conceptual, begging the listener to allow one to sweep into the next, to welcome a sort of hypnotic trance amidst the wildly uniform psychedelic chaos (remember “Siberian Breaks”?).
When we last met Brooklyn's bandana-wrapped soul brothers MGMT, they had managed to do a complete U-turn on their radio-friendly anthems. Their second album, 2010's Congratulations, wasn't a place for the hooky pop of Kids and Electric Feel; instead, its meandering psychedelic masterpieces sent the band's casual fans cantering for the hills. On album three, MGMT's call of the weird has only gotten louder, and it's all the better for it.
Over the course of their last two albums, MGMT have shown themselves to be as comfortable crafting a solid hook as they are heading off into more psychedelic excursions, often bringing those two sides of themselves together to create an eclectic sound that often feels like the musings of a glam pop band on a peyote-fueled vision quest. After two exploratory albums, MGMT return with their eponymous third album, which finds them continuing to push their sound forward as they return to working with producer Dave Fridmann, who worked on the band's debut, Oracular Spectacular. While Fridmann is definitely associated with a sense of spaciousness, thanks to his work with iconic acts like the Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev, he's also a producer who is more about capturing what MGMT are doing than making decisions for them, so while his sonic stamp could be heard on their earlier work, it was clear they weren't quite making the most of the experience.
Pity the band stuck in the last-chance saloon. Once you’ve squandered your success and your corporate paymasters are worried about the running costs of their shareholders’ yachts, you’re going to get reined in. So pity MGMT. After 2010’s ‘Congratulations’ – a bitter, courgette-flavoured lozenge compared to the candyfloss pop of debut album ‘Oracular Spectacular’ in 2007 – their self-titled third album surely sees the band coerced into that purgatory, forced to whip up more ironic electro anthems under the threat of losing their deal…The hell it does.
It's telling that MGMT's third full-length album is their first to be given an eponymous title. The band managed to snag major label attention with their early, inescapably catchy tracks like "Kids" and "Electric Feel." Yet mainstream appeal was apparently never MGMT's original, nor sole, intention. Feeling they had something to prove to the art world, they followed up their major label debut with Congratulations, an album steeped in weirdo psychedelia and completely stripped of any trace of mainstream pop.
Upon the release of Congratulations, there was a lot of talk about how MGMT were alienating fans with an album that overreached into defiant weirdness following their hugely popular debut. Despite its leap from Oracular Spectacular, Congratulations is closer to the acid-freak soul that MGMT was meant to produce. Their third album—the self-titled MGMT—carries on this tradition with more focus and clarity.
With 2010’s Congratulations, MGMT managed to avoid the question of the difficult second album by creating a record that deliberately placed more demands on the listener than their 2007 debut Oracular Spectacular. Gone were the big radio friendly tunes: nothing could be equated with Time To Pretend or Kids in this album of a more intensely psychedelic persuasion. It was, in a way, a means of saying ‘screw you’ to anyone who had MGMT pigeonholed as a singles band; it was a means of displaying their intent and their ambition.
You’ve probably heard it more times than “Time to Pretend” by now: the story of MGMT vs. Oracular Spectacular. The duo’s 2007 debut stands as one of recent history's rare game-changing (read: replicable) pop-rock records and its success caught everyone off guard, most of all MGMT themselves. Paralyzed by songs they had the misfortune of disliking more than anyone else, Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser responded in 2010 with Congratulations, a well-meaning, overstuffed, and reactionary record of big ambitions that were only vaguely defined.
You can’t have it both ways, though that hasn’t stopped MGMT from spending the better part of five years trying. On the one hand, the psych-pop golden children, exalted with a Gold-selling debut and several Grammy nods to their name, are cruising along on a Columbia deal that’s apparently cushy enough to let them live out their recording fantasies for a year in Dave Fridmann’s upstate New York den. On the other, after a polarizing sophomore LP, main players Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser are as committed as ever to eviscerating the simmering qualities that made Oracular Spectacular a left-field success in the first place.
Considering it's only 44 minutes long, MGMT's self-titled third album feels much lengthier. This is partly due to the dense layers and constantly shifting textures, but it's also a result of the abrasive digital distortion shrouding the psych-pop jams, making it a tiring listen even at its most melodic. Anyone hoping for a repeat of the mutant accessibility of Kids gave up long ago, however, so subtly annoying may have been what they were going for.
MGMT keep finding new and exciting ways to mess with our heads. On the New York art-rock duo's 2008 Oracular Spectacular, pie-eyed keyboard whimsy was a Trojan horse for cagey lyrics about rock careerism. After the album spawned a couple of small hits, they systematically peeled off a big chunk of their budding fan base with the mad-hatter psychedelic sprawl of 2010's winkingly titled Congratulations.
MGMT continue their sustained dive into the sonic headspace of Oracular Spectacular's second half, presenting another collection of sprawling lysergic psych-rock weirdness. That this is where their hearts lie, sonically speaking, is certainly not a bad thing and there are plenty who want to follow them away from the storm of their titanic, infectious electro-pop into the setting sun of a latter-era Ween, with perhaps a little Brian Eno thrown in for good measure (this reviewer is one of those listeners). .
It’s best to discard any redundant arguments about the validity of music as an art form in pop music. Making art is an intrinsic exercise - there’s a need to express regardless of the intent, and doing so without any pretensions undoubtedly makes it more genuine. But detecting any fakery in our pop stars makes it all the more compelling, and MGMT have been juggling with both approaches ever since they hit a trifecta of successful singles with their debut Oracular Spectacular.
We can joke about Tapes ‘n Tapes and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and the Black Kids, but has any band experienced a deeper backlash after internet buzz than MGMT? With Oracular Spectacular the hypemeisters somehow turned a solid debut record from a talented group with a few genuinely good songs into some kind of a generational touchstone. No matter what came next, fans of that fine but overrated debut would likely be unsatisfied, which made the middling, muddled follow-up Congratulations feel like more of an artistic failure than it actually is. Perhaps MGMT felt they truly needed to earn that backlash.
MGMT's sophomore effort, Congratulations, was an obtuse and purposely challenging indulgence of the band's predilection for aimless psychedelia. At the time of its release, the album played less like a leftfield excursion than a patronizing shrug toward critics and fans, the sign of a band that was perhaps slightly amused, but mostly just annoyed, by its own mass appeal. That songs like “Electric Feel,” “Time to Pretend,” and “Kids” were in regular rotation on major rock radio stations appeared to startle founding members Andrew Van Wyngarden and Ben Goldwasser, who recently claimed it was simply a happy accident any of their “goofy” songs made it big, despite the fact that they're practically readymade festival anthems for the Anthropologie-shopping set.
MGMT’s self-titled third album will do little to dispel their reputation as a “difficult” band, but then again, it appears that the band itself is disinterested in changing that reputation. “At this point in our careers, we can’t write a pop song,” co-founder Andrew Van Wyngarden recently humble-bragged in a Pitchfork feature article, shoring up the band’s somewhat disingenuous mythology while also providing glimpses into the terminal apathy that has plagued the group from its inception. And following one of the most severe examples of sophomore slumping in recent memory, MGMT feels like a hedging of bets, a loose, scattershot collection of psychedelic pop, neither conventional nor radical, more electronic than its predecessor but also clearly less commercial than Oracular Spectacular, the band’s 2007 debut.
The hardest critic to shake off is perception. This has been and continues to be the biggest problem for MGMT. Perception says their audience should be 19-year-olds sharing Brooklyn efficiencies while mocking Top 40 pop. Or acid-dropping Flaming Lips disciples trying to find some combination of Zaireeka discs that make it sound like the Richard D.
MGMT (Columbia) On the sanity scale, MGMT's orbiting comfortably somewhere between Diamond Dogs-era David Bowie and Syd Barrett. Having committed commercial seppuku with 2010's Congratulations, Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser attempt once more to redefine themselves on third LP MGMT with varying degrees of success. This is the sound of a high-minded band left to its own devices and with budget to spare.
opinion byBENJI TAYLOR Talent and results – they accrue goodwill with fans. There’s a trade-off somewhere, an unsung and unsigned mutual agreement between artist and fan, that they provide us with good material, and in return we allow them room to experiment and evolve. In constructing “Time To Pretend”, one of the best songs of 2008, MGMT accumulated a hell of a lot of goodwill.
So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star? Connecticut neo-merry pranksters Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden, aka MGMT, never did. Yet the duo found themselves in that unlikely position regardless as a result of a couple of big hits contained on their 2008 debut Oracular Spectacular. ‘Time To Pretend’s kaleidoscopic meta-pop perfection and the delicious synth hook of ‘Kids’ were certainly memorable in themselves, but they were hardly representative of that album as a whole.
You can’t help but feel for those ageing indie boys out there playing MGMT for the first time. O, the crushing disappointment. Memorial Klaxons mug in hand, there they’ll sit, holding their breath for the triumphant return of ‘MGMT: the synth-pop band’ and the album fated to render MGMT’s nutty predecessor Congratulations the bad practical joke they always knew it to be – only to be met with track one, ‘Alien Days’, and what can only be described as the Fingermouse man’s Renaissance-era ode to stinky hippy-folk, with nary an ’80s stadium-pop hook in sight.
After the relative disappointment of 2010’s follow up to their heavily-praised debut, ‘Oracular Spectacular’, MGMT maestros Andrew VanWyngarden and Benjamin Goldwasser are hoping for a return to form with their eponymously titled third effort. In an attempt to, presumably, recapture the magic of that inaugural release, they’ve even re-enlisted the services of its producing whizz, Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, Tame Impala). And it’s a move that looks to have paid massive dividends.What made ‘Oracular Spectacular’ so special was its innate sense of fun and fondness for reckless abandon.
Something’s always looming and buzzing — or burbling, or clattering, or tapping, or ratcheting, or blipping, or quavering — near the foreground throughout MGMT’s third album, “MGMT. ” It makes the album both testing and, eventually, rewarding. Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser, who write and record as MGMT, have embraced excess since MGMT’s 2007 debut album, “Oracular Spectacular.
While it's clearly not fair to judge an album purely in comparison with a band's previous output, the temptation is strong in the case of MGMT. It's certainly what Sony Music must have been doing these past few years. MGMT's debut Oracular Spectacular hit paydirt and then some, with its soft rock/disco trinity of singles – 'Time To Pretend', 'Electric Feel', and of course 'Kids' – achieving near ubiquity across radio, social media and youth TV programme trailers.
On its third full-length album, the increasingly obscurantist band proves it’s no longer your father’sMGMT — though strangely, it may be your grandfather’s MGMT. While it’s dabbled with psychedelics since 2007 breakthrough “Oracular Spectacular,” those other-dimensional meanderings were counterbalanced by immaculate synth-pop. The 10 songs here complete the defiant metamorphoses hinted at on the indifferently received 2010 stopgap “Congratulations.” It’s now apparent that those left-of-center ’60s outsider psych-rock ramblings weren’t the aberration; focused pop diamonds like “Electric Feel” were.