MGMT’s newest, self-titled, record is a long, strange trip away from where they started on their debut, Oracular Spectacular. Combining lush, processed post production (courtesy of producer and psych wizard Dave Fridmann) with droning song structures the band has mostly abandoned the upbeat glow-pop that made them commercially successful. Even in comparison to 2010’s Congratulations, this record seems quite different for MGMT in terms of sound, lyrics, and songwriting.
Perhaps in retaliation to the sound that made them big, the overall tone (with the exception of the jaunty “Plenty of Girls in the Sea”) is much darker than before and the lyrics, while still being far out, seem more introspective and question the deeper elements of themselves. Lines like “I might feel better knowing I wasn’t alone” from “Cool Song No. 2” and “What am I really like inside” from “Introspection” reinforce the dark and reflective moods portrayed on the record. With most of the songs being rather dark and existentially themed, the previously mentioned “Plenty of Girls in the Sea” is a refreshing breath of air, but feels so upbeat that it’s almost sounds like a trite novelty song instead of well placed sing along.
Musically this record draws more from their psychedelic forefathers, bands like The 13th Floor Elevators and Barret era Pink Floyd, than the electro poppy vibe of the 80’s, being very focused on drones and soundscapes. Songs like “Astro-mancy” and “Alien Days” focus on experimental structures and odd chord changes, and while the musical experimentation is very interesting, it detracts from solid, memorable, songwriting. The closest thing this album has to a hit is the lead single “Your Life is a Lie” and that, while fun, lacks the pop sensibility or unique sounds to make it stand out. However saying this record lacks a hit is not to detract from it’s importance or relevance. This record serves as another stepping stone toward the greater cause of having MGMT become comfortable with themselves. The running theme between all of MGMT’s releases post Oracular Spectacular are that they are running from the sound that made them famous. Their first record was the band experimenting on a blank canvas with no expectations of what they should sound like. Now each record is trying to be different, with the sole purpose of distancing themselves from “Kids”. Their self titled record proves to be about as far out as they can be, and ideally will lead to them feeling more comfortable using their synthy dance vibe while sonically experimenting over top of it.
Overall MGMT is best summed up by a line “Today, find infinite ways it could be worse/ It’s a blessing, but it’s also a curse” from “Alien Days”. I’m glad to see MGMT is continuing to put out records, but I would also like to see something a little more focused. This record is worth a listen but probably not a buy for most casual listeners and not diehard fans.