We talked last week about our hatred for the dreaded mid-career self-titled reinvention album, and while MGMT’s latest fits the description, it does for a very different reason than most bands. While many bands try to set the stage for a major label debut or try to reinvent themselves after a misstep usually going for a more commercial sound, the Brooklyn duo finds itself actually trying to brush off their commercial fame from their smash debut Oracular Spectacular and go for the sound they love: psychedelic, experimental rock reminiscent of early Pink Floyd. While I always commend a band for doing what they want rather than falling the whims of their audience, you need to at least be able to do what you want well, which MGMT fails miserably at.
On their second album, Congratulations, which defied the expectations left from their smash electro-pop debut, at least had some underlying brilliance on songs like “Flash Delirium” and “Siberian Breaks”. MGMT on the other hand, lacks the pop underbelly or interesting production quirks of Congratulations, but the band has made a cloudy and cold album full of subversive messaging that might hit if it had the melodies to match. The album opens with probably its best track in “Alien Days” which has a fairly quirky and magical ending that reminds me of Youth Lagoon’s fine latest release Wondrous Bughouse.
The album wreaks of Syd Barrett Pink Floyd and the Kinks, as if they were buried beneath layers upon layers of murky production. Rather than adding interest, this heavy-handed production takes away any connection point there may have been to this record. Songs like “Your Life Is A Lie” and “I Love You Too, Death” consist of veiled and sophomoric lyrics, like a couple freshmen who just discovered mushrooms and Nietzche. It’s unfortunate to see seeming pop talents Benjamin Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden waste their time on a shoddy drugged-out album like this, but that’s exactly what they appear to be doing and it’s unfortunate.
I think Wes is being a little overly harsh on MGMT’s third proper album. We can all safely assume MGMT will never return to the bombastic pop beginnings that made them so loved. Congratulations was a disappointing departure from the original sound on Oracular Spectacular, and MGMT doesn’t seem to make any headway back to that glorious introduction. All that being said, I believe it is time to simply accept MGMT for what they are and what they want to be: a middling psyche-rock band.
The problem with MGMT now is that they seem to have no cohesive creative thread. As a band, they just have a lot of good and bad ideas with no conceivable filter. The beginning of MGMT is promising, with the outfit doing its best Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd impression, to laudable results. They add in more texture and oddball sound effects than Floyd ever did, as is the trend in today’s psyche scene, but more is certainly not better in this instance.
After five pretty good tracks, the wheels just come splintering off. With the exception of “I Love You Too, Death”, which in its own right starts painfully before righting itself, the second half of the album is a jumbled mess. But the success of the first half garners some positive recognition, with the highs of “Alien Song” and “Your Life Is A Lie” the tracks that stuck with me the most. Wes is probably a bit too harsh, but I understand his frustrations, as reactionary as they may be.
I see flashes of validity in both arguments here. As Austin pointed out, anyone that ever expects to hear another Oracular Spectacular needs to drown those hopes and expectations immediately. I suggest in a bottle of whiskey or gin. Any faint hints of that album that anyone claimed to hear lingering into Congratulations was purely an illusion of the mind. Andrew VanWyngarden himself has been quoted saying that the songs that were actually successful from Oracular were basically written as happy accidents or even jokes, and never had any idea or intentions of them taking off into the massively successful singles they became. After garnering a massive audience however, they were able to fly off the rails and made the music they wanted to make with Congratulations. Which for all intents and purposes I believe to be a better, more full, cohesive album than Oracular, which by comparison is essentially just a grip of great pop songs, and a slew of filler tracks.
Now with the release of their self titled album they have fallen even further down the worm hole, and to Austin’s point, it is actually decently good. After the departure of Dave Fridmann from Congratulations, he returns as the bands co-producer, engineer, and mixer for MGMT. This is a man who has built his career off of psychedelic rock bands like Flaming Lips, Tame Impala, and Neon Indian. This man knows his way around producing a psychedelic album, and all the idiosyncrasies that come with it, and MGMT is no exception. Wes described it as cloudy, I would describe it more as airy. He is right in saying it is a bit colder than their previous efforts, but that is simply because this album isn’t just made up of quick pop tunes like the earlier two. This album unfolds in an entirely different manner; much slower, and not as bouncy.
Similar to Austin, I believe the second half to be a bit more underwhelming than the first, but I still think there are gems to be had. “A Good Sadness” develops like a less spastic Animal Collective tune, with a nice consistent build throughout the song. “Plenty of Girls in the Sea” does come off a bit campy, but in my opinion is a fun little sing-a-long. I think the only tracks that really miss are “Astro-Mancy” and “An Orphan of Fortune” due to complete lack of focus and they just become boring. So overall, it really just adds another diverse, but good album to the never consistent, never incredible, but always enjoyable MGMT catalogue. Deny your expectations and let yourself enjoy the psychedelic trip that is MGMT.
Aggregate Score: 6.5/11
Can’t Miss: “Alien Song”, “Your Life Is A Lie”, “Introspection”, “I Love You Too, Death”
Can’t Hit: “A Good Sadness”, “An Orphan of Fortune”, “Astro-Mancy”