Regardless of what anyone says, MGMT is (or maybe was) an important band. The duo were so far ahead of the alternative curve with their debut album, Oracular Spectacular, it’s not even funny. The combination of electronic elements infused into rock isn’t necessarily a new concept (take a look at the entirety of the 1980s,) but going about it in such an “indie” way is all the rage right now. Songs like “Kids,” “Time To Pretend,” and “Electric Feel” sound fresher now than they did 5 years ago. Their sophomore effort, Congratulations took on a much more psychedelic approach, leaving out most of the gleams of pop that were sprinkled over their classic hits. Nonetheless, it was a solid record. It doesn’t feel like as much time has passed as it has, but quite a bit has gone by since we’ve last heard from MGMT, who are about to release their self-titled third album. Realistically speaking, their sound is more relevant now than it’s ever been before, at least in the world of alternative music. Maybe that will hurt them, maybe that will help them, but it all comes down to whether or not that’s even where they were planning to go.
I’ll cut right to the chase: they didn’t go there. I’m not even sure where they went, but it was certainly quite a trip. The MGMT album is so trippy that even the 1960s is scratching its head. Normally, I’d go through each track and talk about their individual placement and success-level, but that would be pointless here. Yes, there are 10 individual songs included on the album, but they are so indistinguishable at parts that it’d almost be an impossible task, but I am going to try. Also, I’d normally not wait a full week to review an album, but this one needed time to sink in. I think for anyone that isn’t heavily stoned, forming an instant opinion of the album would be particularly difficult. Nonetheless, there is one immediate reaction to decipher, and that is they have succeeded in making us pay attention, listen, and question. MGMT is so left-field in nature that I have to question whether or not its existence is a joke, and down the rabbit hole I go into questioning whether my own existence is a joke. The centerpiece, “Your Life Is A Lie” certainly doesn’t help matters there.
The first track, “Alien Days” was released for record store day earlier this year, and it ended up be a necessary ice-breaker for us. Starting off with a child handling the vocals before eerily morphing into Andrew VanWyngarden’s menacing, possessed, yet strikingly peaceful voice, the song is dissonant, loosely structured, and completely bonkers. The amount of drugs they must have been on when conceiving this is extraordinary, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. The next track is aptly titled “Cool Song No. 2,” and bizarrely feels reminiscent of the Moody Blues’ then-experiemental “The Sunset” off their Days Of Future Passed album. Yes, there is a different vibe to it on the whole compared to “Alien Days,” but almost 10 minutes in to MGMT and not only is exhaustion steadily approaching, but the confusion level is through the roof. Track 3, “Mystery Disease” almost feels like it doesn’t exist. Once again, it’s far too vague and wonky to pinpoint. The first real distinguishable moment is their cover of Faine Jade’s “Introspection.” The original is somewhat of a 60s obscurity, in hindsight, but it makes way too much sense for this record. They slow it down a bit and update the production quality, but they keep it relatively intact. For such an strange choice of cover song, it almost seems predictable to include here.
By some miracle, we reach the midpoint of the album with proper lead single “Your Life Is A Lie.” At first listen on its own, the song just doesn’t make sense. In the context of the album, it’s the only feasible single! Coming in just over 2 minutes, it’s by far the shortest piece on the album, but, despite being so circular, it’s the most memorable. The track fits in with the other songs, but it serves the purpose of being the closest thing to a pace-changer we’re going to get. Up next, “A Good Sadness” sees them taking a more modern approach to the same sounds. There’s a sincere beauty about it, despite feeling like musical quicksand, but by this point, we’re already sucked in anyway. The next two tracks, “Astro-Mancy” and “I Love You Too, Death” both feel like musical purgatory; how to even single them out is still beyond me. Luckily, “Plenty Of Girls In The Sea” comes to save the monotony. The melody and lyrics feel like Revolver or Sgt. Peppers-era Beatles, but with the psychedelic and craziness levels elevated to modern proportions.; it actually does work. Finally, the album is wrapped up with “An Orphan Of Fortune,” a song that both feels like it could be any other on the record, but actually teeters on exploding into something epic. Again, there are all of these sparks of hope and genius, but it remains far too confusing to comprehend.
So… what on Earth is MGMT, even? I’m not sure there will ever be an answer that doesn’t contradict itself. The short of it is, the album is fucking brilliant, but what purpose does it serve? Who’s even going to listen to it? I feel heavily intoxicated just by pressing play, but the music doesn’t make sense! See, the album’s paradoxical quality is what makes it a success, though. Experimenting can lead to some great, game-changing things, but it can also lead to expanding our minds and musical palates. MGMT is very much the latter; it’s a thinking piece. Listening to it is having an experience that toys with our emotions and tries our patience on numerous occasions. It’s repetitive, it’s crazy, it’s almost idiotic, but they end up making it work! After each complete run-though, I felt fatigued yet strangely satisfied, but confident that I needed to continue to experience the album as a singular unit without having to go in a pick out individual songs. Despite serving a function, though, I can’t help but be a bit cynical. I’m still not sure whether this a joke or this is serious, and i’m still not sure if it’s genius or if it’s lazy and haphazard. I’ve changed my mind about a dozen times already, but my conclusion is that MGMT knew exactly what they were doing when they made this album. I have no idea what exactly that is, but you can just tell they succeed in it. I applaud them for it.