MGMT experiments, entrances listeners on self-titled albumPosted on September 19, 2013 | by Chris Feldsine
The casual music listener’s introduction to MGMT most likely came through “Kids,” the extravagant exercise in electronica that first hit American airwaves in 2008. “Kids,” and the record on which it first appeared, “Oracular Spectacular,” remain highly listenable, but both are nevertheless responsible for the misrepresentation of MGMT as raucous synthpop, which they are not. MGMT is an experimental band and “Kids” is simply its most accessible experiment.
Benjamin Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden rarely strive for such accessibility on their new self-titled album, “MGMT.” Meandering, lethargic and occasionally incoherent, MGMT would complement a hallucination or a seance — or a hallucinated seance — quite well. It is often superb, though one might struggle to determine why that is. There is a pervasive eeriness, from which there is little respite. VanWyngarden’s thinly plaintive voice is often so heavily distorted as to render it unintelligible, and lyrics that were once more easily comprehended on songs like “Kids,” are so cryptic that they merely reinforce the prevailing sense of unease.
An uncanny aura, reminiscent of “Closer”-era Joy Division, pervades every song. There is something otherworldly about “MGMT,” a certain sense of detachment that not all will find endearing. It’s an experiment informed by motivations wildly different from those behind “Oracular Spectacular” and “Congratulations,” and its results likely will only interest a very different — and limited — demographic.
Yet “MGMT” is somehow a mesmerizing marvel rather than an aesthetic abomination. At its strongest, it is so enthralling that the listener is almost involuntarily immersed within its dreamlike trance — these songs are so intricately intertwined that even the lulls are enrapturing. Its hallucinatory quality evokes The Beatles’ forays into the psychedelic such as “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Within You Without You.” Seemingly unceasing echoes prolong the haunting accents of VanWyngarden’s ghostly voice. Reliance on synthesizers can result in an overwrought sound, but here, they create a dissonance that fits beautifully with the record’s general atmosphere of uncertainty.
The listener never quite knows what to make of “MGMT,” but that ambiguity is precisely the source of its excellence. If ever the album seems incomplete, that is because it solicits the listener’s participation — it is so engaging because the listener’s involvement completes it. “MGMT” demands interpretation, and it generally merits it.
“MGMT” will not likely experience the commercial success to which MGMT is accustomed, and its complexities will smack of pretention to some. The band certainly has its pretensions, and they are not entirely absent on “MGMT” — the album’s insistence on defying classification can seem a pointed endeavor to perplex critics for the sake of perplexing critics. Furthermore, these deliberate obscurities are indicative of a band that tends to take itself too seriously.
Self-indulgence, however, is a pretension that can be overlooked, and it generally does not detract from “MGMT.” This album may lack clarity, but its inventiveness is beyond dispute. That alone makes “MGMT” a worthwhile listen for the true lover of music.
Chris Feldsine is a contributing writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.