Under Review: MGMT – Congratulations

Let’s do a little role playing, okay?  Let’s say you’re in an up-and-coming band that achieves massive left-field success with an artsy yet accessibly poppy debut album.  You tour with bands who you cite as your own influences, and live on top of the world for a good number of years.  You even get nominated for a Grammy.  Now the time has come to follow up your smash debut.  Do you: A) Try to recapture the bouncy quirk of your first record in hopes that your audience comes back for more or B) show the world that you never intended to be famous by packing as many strange ideas as you can into 43 minutes and hope your audience has plenty of patience?  If you answered B, then you’ve mostly figured out MGMT’s new album, Congratulations.  Those who’ve been waiting since 2007 for more “Electric Feels” and “Time To Pretends” are no doubt going to be confounded upon listening Congratulations, which plays like a montage of transmissions from the psychedelic world of bandleaders Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser.  The boggled surfer on the album’s cover could be hanging ten to the first few songs on the album, with “It’s Working” featuring a beat that sounds like “Hawaii Five-O” in outer space, and “Song For Dan Treacy” paying homage to the Television Personalities leader with an appropriately fuzzy farfisa. 

Each song on Congratulations grapples between styles and moods, giving the album an instability that, while it may seem haphazard, is clearly meticulous in its composition.  This isn’t the sound of five guys mucking around in a studio; they know exactly what they’re doing.  That knowing wink comes through strongest on “Siberian Breaks,” Congratulations’ 12-minute centerpiece.  Shifting between pastoral Syd Barrett surrealism and spacey electronics (no surprise given Spacemen 3’s Peter “Sonic Boom” Kember’s seat at the mixing helm), the piece is an ambitious distillation of several decades’ worth of psychedelic music.  After another tribute, this time to “Brian Eno,” Congratulations spends its last few minutes in a pensive mode, with the instrumental “Lady Dada’s Nightmare” and the mellow title track closing the record.  Seeing as how no one knew what to expect from MGMT the second time around, Congratulations is a career move that’s bound to alienate as many as it endears.  Still, if you’re willing to sift through the abundance of scatterbrained fragments, you’ll find some pretty creative stuff in there somewhere.


~ by E. on April 12, 2010.

One Response to “Under Review: MGMT – Congratulations”

  1. “E” (as you seem to be called on your blog),

    I was so excited when I saw the title of this post, because this is the first time you’ve written about a band I listen to! (Okay, so that may be somewhat of an exaggeration; but I do LOVE the song “Kids”, and some other song, but I don’t remember the name of it. But I sweeeear they’re both on my iPod as we speak. Okay, so I don’t really have an iPod. I have a $19.99 MP3 player that holds 70 songs that I just listen to over and over again, and that’s fine with me.) But I digress.

    I always love to stop by your blog, find out who you’re listening to, read your eloquent writing, and pretend for a few minutes that I have musical taste. It’s pretty cool that your passion for music is so loud in between these virtual words.

    Good luck with the end of your semester!

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