Music Reviews


(Columbia) Rating - 5/10

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. Had they accepted the fortuity of early success they probably wouldn’t have received so much unfair backlash, which is why there’s a need to continually question their unorthodox evolution. No other contemporary act has had to defend their artistic decisions so fiercely.

So they earned a wider audience outside of the usual “indie” target market, and three hit singles is nothing to scoff at, which made it even more necessary for MGMT to test how open minded their audience is. You could sense that they felt threatened due to their fans connecting with them for all the wrong reasons, which naturally lead them to despise them with an obstinate tenacity. Their headstrong insistence to change their fate by taking a more experimental route wasn’t doing them any favors, and the being vocal whilst displaying deliberate acts of apathy routine quickly became an unnecessary annoyance. Which led to the creation of Congratulations, a far more audacious and meticulously layered psych-prog effort full of intriguing, yet harebrained ideas that needed the proper space to channel them into greater efficiency. 

It leaves MGMT in a precarious situation, though you can sense they enjoy the thrill of being at the brink of jeopardizing their career. Ostensibly, they’re actually in a much more comfortable place than they’ve ever been regardless of their outré motives, and MGMT certainly does sound expensive, meaning its reception will depend solely on its songwriting prowess. Album opener Alien Days does make a commendable first impression regardless of its sonically disorienting ornamentations, with a shape-shifting slab of minor/major chord changes that pleasingly lobotomize the senses. It quickly veers into a curious stream of whim with their most alienating, and unfortunately, their most characterless yet - they deliver an onslaught of acrimonious synths in the post-apocalyptic, jazz-tinged Mystery Disease, while Cool Song No. 2 shamelessly takes a page out of the Can playbook with its grimy, overcompressed effects. 

As MGMT morphs from one kaleidoscopic hue to the next, it willingly distances itself even further from the pop constraints they dutifully fend against. The echo-laden propulsion of A Good Sadness is too coy to dare go into a locked interstellar groove, opting instead to remain at an odd time signature that’s just begging to free itself from its bindings. Sadness is the perfect mid-show, cue the smoke machines stoner joint that could be extended to ten minutes and it wouldn’t make much of a difference, or cause much of a reaction besides getting fans itched for that rousing rendition of Kids that’s just around the corner. The cosmic translucence of Astro-Nancy is alluring at first, except that its laconic vocals and imprudent use of textures turn into grating, knob-twiddling harping that never interacts or engages. And once it arrives at the trance-inducing trip that is I love You Too, Death, you’ve just had enough of this pointless exercise in masturbatory engineering. One begins to wonder whether studio wizard Dave Friedmann, whose known to botch as many psychedelic records as he has enhanced them, let his decision-making hubris taint what could’ve been a more open form of democracy. 

What’s disheartening about MGMT is that even if they disapprove of their earlier pop songs, their structureless compositions still operate within a high level of artful accessibility. The clever Your Life Is A Lie is a perfect example of this, spiraling ad-nauseum in perpetual motion until you experience an epiphany: that we face life within ourselves regardless of how much energy we spend worrying about our interactions with others. Alienation has become something of their Achilles’ heel - the theme is present not only in their songs but also in their public life, how they hope to change the perception of others. Artists always throw out the “I make music for myself” card when they’re aspiring for authenticity. This is the recurring story in MGMT’s career - they want at all costs to be liked on their own terms. There’s other ways of letting one in instead of being so stubbornly insular; they just haven’t written that song yet.