Before I begin to elaborate on MGMT’s new and long awaited album, Congratulations, allow me to first explain that this is the band’s second album. The first album, of course, was the unofficial anthem of summer 2008. It was catchy, electro-rock, trippy, youthful, and wait for it, from Brooklyn! In short, listening to Oracular Spectacular was an invincible way to ingest LSD by way of one’s ears. In fact, the keyboard intro to “Time to Pretend” was iconic enough to trigger flashbacks to sunny car rides and summer gambols.
As former Wesleyan students, Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden understand the difference between Freshman and Sophomore years, it is important for fans to come to terms with this as well. Freshman year is intimidating as one must adapt to a new environment and blindly feel around for better ways to navigate the obstacles ahead. This inevitably leads to a compromise between acting the way one perceives others expect of him/her to and the way one would like to express oneself. In MGMT’s case, they were two young guys based in Brooklyn who went to Wesleyan, and dressed in the most randomly assembled rainbow rags of vintage clothing. What did the public (the record company) want from them? Music that will accompany similar kids as they go on road trips, camp out at music festivals, smoke cigarettes, bum around Brooklyn, tribal dance on beaches, surf the galaxies, ride cats…you know, MGMT activities. Thus, Oracular Spectacular was MGMT’s debut and they were successful in delivering an immediate crowd pleaser.
MGMT’s new album, Congratulations, on the other hand, is the band’s Sophomore album. With a more psychedelic set of songs that do not demand the listener’s attention the way the previous album did, it is clear that the album represents more freedom on the band’s part—and requires deeper inspection from the listener’s. It is clear from their existing popularity that MGMT has gathered loyal supporters that will take the time necessary to meditate on the latest record before passing judgment.
On the whole, Congratulations is less electronic and more psychedelic rock with undertones of eighties’ synthetic loops. It rings closer to bands like Of Montreal and Real Estate than Cut Copy or Crystal Castles, straying away from the electronic path MGMT was at once responsible for popularizing. Interestingly enough, the vocals are also significantly different with a high pitch and more variation in tempo whereas the first album had a fairly consistent, low, and chant-like vocal field. Funny tunes like “Brian Eno” and “It’s Working” are examples of this, while “Lady Dada’s Nightmare” lacks any vocals, whatsoever.
As a whole body of work, Congratulations works beautifully as one song leads into the next. After two listens through its entirety, I promise even the most obscure of the melodies will remain stuck on repeat in your head as you go along the daily grind. As more of a twelve-minute composition than a three-minute song, “Siberian Breaks” is the strongest track as it moves through several stages, each with its own tone of nostalgia. It begins with a slow guitar strum, then soft vocals, then a doubled gust of guitars and vocals until the song’s climax descends with outdated futuristic effects à la Ziggy Stardust fading into old-school drum beats. In this prematurely reminiscent attitude, the nineteen eighties reference reminds me more of Washed Out’s new single, “Feel it All Around,” than any particular new wave song from the eighties. This retrospective theme resounds in the closing track, “Congratulations,” where the band appears to lament their sudden rise to fame without the old-school simplicity of a genuine feeling of pride. Leave it up to MGMT to make the youth feel bittersweet nostalgia.
-- Charlotte Japp
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