Album Review

Chad W. Lutz

With its sleek, smooth, and sometimes-otherworldly style, the new album from Grammy Award Winning MGMT released on April 13, 2010 delivers on the sophomore follow-up to 2007’s Oracular Spectacular. Something that most bands find hard to manage. But the New York-born and Connecticut-bred duo of Andrew Von Wyngarden and Ben Martin Goldwasser seem to have the right business plan.

Congratulations, the latest installment in the MGMT catalog is a nine track LP produced by the band and former Sonic Boom member Pete Kember. The album was released on Columbia records, marking the first release for MGMT exclusively on a major record label and it shows that they set out to impress.

No stranger to the strange, MGMT dives right into their usual eerie, cartoonish mayhem on the very first track, “It’s Working,” almost calling out their own music with the lyrics, “How will I know it’s working?” As I was listening to the first couple of tracks, I realized, after staring at a wall for almost twenty minutes without moving or blinking, that it, indeed, was working.

MGMT is the latest champion of the new wave, psychedelic rock scene that seems to be making a comeback after the terrible years of 80’s hair bands and pretty much any boy band in general from the 90s. And laced throughout the album are simple beats and provocative lyrics that pull you in right from the get-go.

Dissonant at times (although sometimes so dissonant that you can’t even hear the lyrics) the album stays true to the band’s ethereal psychedelia and even infuses back to basics blues elements amidst ambient trance and soft, smooth jazz. Simple drumbeats and heavy organ work round out the bounce bass and light guitar that make up the main musical components of the album. Bells, tambourines, and pianos also make an appearance, showing the versatility and diversity that the band can deliver when it sets out to make a great album. Congratulations, you have!

But the album’s theme seems to be a bit darker than the whimsical nature of the album. Some songs are downright terrifying; like “Lady Dada’s Nightmare” [gee, I wonder who this was written about? : Scratches head: Hmm, the world may never know]. The song sounds like a wound up jewelry box playing a soft-reel tune with voices that you can barely make out talking in the background. Then, as if out of nowhere, the signature drumming synonymous with MGMT comes in with wailing in the background that sounds like Roger Waters’ “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” from A Saucerful of Secrets (1968). It almost gives you the feeling that you’re watching a kid screaming at an amusement park or at his own birthday party.

And the possible theme of sadness in happiness continues with “Congratulation.” “All is well if the ticket sells,” proclaims the laid back leaner as clapping can be heard in the song’s background. The song is the album’s most lyrically heavy and features both the tambourine and flute.

With songs that range anywhere from 2:30 (the feel-good “Someone’s Missing”) to the psychedelic epic, “Siberian Breaks” (12:10), MGMT takes you on a musical ride that leaves you feeling like you attended the world’s most morbid carnival and lived to love telling about it. If you’re not a fan of trancy psychedelic music, the album could get old really fast, and might even sound like just a bunch of wailing noise with hard to hear lyrics far off in the background. But for the die-hard fans of the band, and maybe a few newcomers to the MGMT scene like myself, it should offer up a heaping helping of diversity that’s entertaining, and intriguing, if anything else.