Written & media by Kevin Dunne.
MGMT first hit the scene at the decline of the Holy Roman Empire and amazed the world with their distorted, far-out sound. With Oracular Spectacular, their debut album, the world was introduced to some darn fine tunes like this:
Centuries pass, empires rise and fall. Columbus accidentally discovers the Americas, and MGMT unveils their second album, Congratulations. The album boasted the greatest songs of the late 15th century and would go on to be considered the definitive musical influence until the discovery of the blues in the Mississippi delta in the 19th century. Congratulations served as a bridge between the hierarchical class structure, allowing for both peasants and aristocrats alike to come together and groove to sweet jams like this:
Flash forward to the modern era. Man has walked on the moon. A possible cure for HIV/AIDS has been discovered. You can now make photos taken on smart phones look like they were taken decades ago. Mankind has possibly reached its golden age of achievement, but then MGMT once more astounds the world with the release of their third eponymous album. The world has not been this amazed since the dawn of man, when fire was discovered and the wheel created. It has been a long wait, and some have waited literal lifetimes to listen to it, but MGMT finally released a new album.
Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser have come a long way from sitting naked in their dorm room and singing falsetto about electric eels. MGMT doesn’t necessarily mark a departure from the culture of electronic pop music that the band has made its success on in the past. While MGMT certainly has a niche in being able to craft songs that you can’t get out of your head, this album is certainly focused more on the self-introspective side of their writing . This album certainly forces the listener to stare deep into the dark abyss and without hesitation, makes them dive in, which is why it may be one of the most important albums released to date.
Trying desperately to move away from the Pink Floyd wannabe-acid-tripping upper-middle class reputation songs like “Kids” or “Time to Pretend” have given the band, MGMT seems to be doing what Bob Dylan did with Self Portrait, and yes, I am conceited enough to link to another article that I wrote, deal with it. MGMT seems to pick up where ‘Siberian Breaks,’ a prog-epic from the tragically-underrated Congratulations, left off. In an amazing Pitchfork interview, VanWyngarden said, “There are still people who secretly hope that we’re going to come out with an album of songs that sound like ‘Kids‘…With pretty much every song on this new album, we were like, ‘This time we’re gonna write a pop song,'” he explains. “But at this point in our careers, we can’t write a pop song.” There’s no trace of remorse in his voice. “If we tried, we’d either get bummed out, or we’d change it enough until it was something that we actually liked.” Within each song, a medley of philosophical issues are blended with rich, textured, and layered musical accompaniment, giving the listener a well produced album overflowing with ideas and complex themes bursting from a synth wonderland.
MGMT is also renowned for their creative abilities not only musically, but artistically, and have released two music videos, as well as an “Optimizer” for the album. “Your Life Is A Lie” is another trip down the rabbit hole and is well made, but the true masterpiece is “Cool Song No. 2.” The video goes against the gain of popular music and dares to tell an engaging story and have a purpose. It is captivating, sewn with deeper meaning and abound with emotion. MGMT combines the visually striking artistic abilities of bands like Arcade Fire and Vampire Weekend do in their music videos to create something truly beautiful and enchanting. The video transforms the entire song and compliments and adds to the complexity of it. In a sense, the videos are great markers for the album itself, as MGMT shows off how far it has matured as a professional act. Rather than appease wannabe hipsters and whiny highschoolers who just want to trip out and dance to their songs at concerts and raves, VanWyngarden and Goldwasser chose to make music that has purpose and an intellectual drive behind the lyrics and rhythm.
MGMT may have gotten popular off of songs they jokingly wrote while the two founding members were in college. They may have been pigeonholed by the expectations of their own fans who didn’t understand most of their music. They may have even tried to break away from those restraints with their second album. With their third album, MGMT effectively created an something that is not only a personal statement in terms of songwriting, but in craftsmanship as well. The album represents a clash of personality between the two aforementioned founders of the group, hails the triumph the ability of human creativity and genius, and stresses the importance of coming to terms with the utter insanity of the world. Goldwasser says it best when he says the album is about, “accepting that the world is totally messed up, and the apocalypse is going to happen whether we want it to or not, and find something beautiful to live for.”
The album marks a turning point in the group’s career path and raises important, mind-stimulating questions that active listeners will wrestle with and try to grapple. “Fans” of MGMT, who only listen to “Kids” will likely be unable to keep up with this album, as MGMT, always a game changer in the music industry, has yet again shifted direction. The album is truly cerebral; even four or five listens may not be enough to fully begin to understand the album. Very few albums have ever been able to penetrate straight into the the human id and ego with such tenacity and bravado, and make a person start to realize great existential quandaries. The album is a moral, philosophical, and ethical Catch-22 that, despite its avant-garde overtones, is so straightforward and down to earth, that it seems so cosmic and far out. With MGMT, MGMT explores new territories in music and deepens their roots as prolific songwriters and musicians who are not only cognizant of themselves, but more confident in their ability to supersede past expectations and do what music is meant to: blow our minds.