Tag Archives: MGMT

MGMT ‘Little Dark Age’ – Review

23 Mar

MGMT have become characters in an unfortunate narrative beyond their control; they’re the pretentious, ungrateful pranksters who deliberately turned their noses up at mainstream recognition in a haze of psychedelic drugs. As with most myths there is an inkling of truth – their last, self titled album was in some part a maddeningly indulgent nightmare that sold a tiny fraction of the band’s debut – but this version of the story tends to oversell the group’s initial success and underplay their later albums creative gains. Yes, ‘Kids’, ‘Time to Pretend’ and Electric Feels’ were some of the biggest festival anthems of the 00s but the rest of ‘Oracular Spectacular’ was just as strange and singular as ‘Congratulations’, album number two, which has arguably been just as influential in the years since. ‘Oracular Spectacular’ itself wasn’t an immovable chart object and nor was ‘Congratulations’ a commercial bomb (though ‘Oracular Spectacular’ hung around for longer, ‘Congratulations’ actually charted higher in all the key territories and was a few thousand sales away from being a chart topper in America).

Anyway, in keeping with the tropes of such a narrative, new record ‘Little Dark Age’ is being presented as the requisite ‘comeback’ album; the album that rengages with pop music and the wider world in general. And yes, again, there is an inkling of truth in that. The production is certainly more dynamic and lively, the lyrics are sharper and identifiably about things, and most notably, the choruses soar skyscraper high. But of course, being an MGMT album, it’s still a distinctly unusual pop record, one that shakes itself under your feet, and makes jagged left turns just when you think you’ve figured things out. It sounds like MGMT have misremembered songs from the 1980s, and set out to reimagine them through a 2018 lens and with their own particular idiosyncrasies. The latter is particularly important; in a world of factory line 80s pastiches and homages, ‘Little Dark Age’ stands out as being decidedly other and unmistakably MGMT.

The duo sound reenergised and reinvigorated from the off. Skewered opening track ‘She Works Out Too Much’ bends a multitude of analogue synths, squeezes in a saxophone solo, and features bizarre spoken word instructions on how best to work out. Quietly buzzing below all this is Andrew Vanwyngarden mourning a relationship that never got off the ground. ‘The only reason it never worked out was I didn’t work out enough’ he deadpans. Mgmt never exactly lost their sense of humour but here they position it front and centre once again. The song is brilliantly addictive and totally off the wall. It’s a nod to the listener that you have permission to smile, even as the world potentially collapses around you.

And MGMT don’t hide away from that collapse either. In fact, they have never sounded more engaged by, or alive to, the anxieties and possibilities of the modern age. The title track is a kaleidoscopic, ironic nightmare in which Love seeps out of policemen’s guns, feelings rot, and people grieve in stereo. MGMT are defending your right to be strange in an even stranger world. It’s a smile in the grip of tyranny. It’s a declaration about getting out on stage and smiling, despite all of the above. ‘Know that if you hide it doesn’t go away’ they declare in a world weary monotone that eventually becomes part of the winking humour. If the world is burning all around you, then you may as well go out singing and dancing.

They keep their tongues firmly in cheek for most of the first side. ‘When We Die’ and ‘Me and Michael’ are two of the catchiest and silliest songs the band have put out in years. Even the vaguely creepy ballad ‘James’ features an ear candy melody at the centre of all its deep voiced strangeness. ‘Time Spent Looking at My Phone’, a song which, as its title suggests, takes pointed aim at the iPhone generation, is daft enough to be enjoyable despite the borderline preachiness of the tone and the mandarin solo in the final third.

As the album plays out, it looses a touch of the humour and becomes more self serious and somber. Instrumental ‘Days that Got Away’, starts the slide in to melancholy and like the other instrumentals in the band’s back catalogue, it’s an interesting diversion but also totally forgettable. ‘When You’re Small’ and ‘Hand It Over’ slow the pace down further and reintroduce some of the lush acoustics and pastoral-psychedelic pomp of the ‘Congratulations’ era. ‘Hand It Over’ in particular is a kind of update on that album’s title track, with its themes of dodgy deals being done and careers being jeopardised in the name of A.R.T. ‘If we lose our touch, it won’t mean much/which door will we open?’ The song’s Rundgren-esque harmonies and reverb drenched atmospherics ensure the album closes with a haunting but optimistic tone. Even if this album fails, they’re saying, the possibilities remain endless.

Mgmt have an important legacy. Ok, their skittish and indulgent style of electro indie may have been responsible for allowing Foster the People and Iglu and Hartley to gain a footing with major labels eager to cash in on the trend, but it’s also difficult to imagine the likes of Passion Pit, Purity Ring, Chairlift and even Animal Collective, getting such a receptive welcome by the mainstream if MGMT hadn’t opened a few doors for them first. And very few of those bands albums stand up as well as ‘Oracular Spectacular’ or ‘Congratulations’, which have both aged remarkably. ‘Little Dark Age’ won’t create the same buzz or have the same influence, but it’s a giddy and life affirming return from a band who many assumed had lost their inner sparkle and ambition.



MGMT ‘MGMT’ – Review

25 Sep

Does anybody know who MGMT are? Who they really are? Are they the rock-star-dreaming-prankstars who write songs about Electric eels? They certainly don’t seem to think so. Are they the pastoral psychedelic punks who make pretend it’s 1969 forever? Maybe. Maybe not. This self titled record, their third, doesn’t clarify things. In fact it muddies the narrative even further. They’ve clearly self-titled it for a reason; perhaps this is the album that they feel sums up who they are – which is weird cos it doesn’t really say anything about anything. But Ben and Andrew must feel it reveals the essential truth about MGMT. Perhaps that essential truth is that they are contrarians. This is an album that plays against their greatest strengths; it’s an album that feels not only a world away from the giddy electro pop of ‘Electric Feel’ and ‘Kids’ but also from the psychedelic whimsy of Congratulations.’ It doesn’t defy expectations or even ignore them, it acknowledges them and joylessly and self-consciously sticks its tongue out at them.

‘MGMT’ is the album that some critics thought ‘Congratulations’ was. They thought ‘Congratulations’ was difficult, tuneless, weird and un-poppy which just wasn’t true. ‘Congratulations’ was slightly strange but it also had the most gorgous melodies and sticky hooks. It was extremely accessible. ‘MGMT’ on the other hand is all those other adjectives. On this album MGMT sound like a band for whom songwriting is a genuine inconvenience that gets in the way of getting high and making weird sounds. These tracks are congested with dozens of fantastical musical ideas that are all played out at once. It’s claustrophobic and paranoid. There is no movement or progression. Songs start, they stop and in between a lot happens all at once. Melodies roll out quietly over the top but they aren’t considered important. Lyrics aren’t important. Guitars don’t really feature. rhythm is almost nonexistent. Every vocal has been distorted or clipped or given some weird warbly effect. The duo sound like sugar high kids in a major label sweet shop, given the resources and time to experiment with anything they like. It makes for the most aimless, meandering and frustrating record you’ll hear all year. But it’s also sparingly brilliant.

Album opener ‘Alien Days’ is the only song on here that you could pass off as a true success, and unsurprisingly it’s the only song that would have sat comfortably with its sonic brothers and sisters on ‘Congratulations’. Here the duo marry a sweet melody (that doesn’t sound like an afterthought!) with a progressive and interesting musical arrangement. ‘Cool Song Number 2’ snaps the momentum with a dowbeat tempo and some minor key noodling but It’s still the next best thing on here thanks to another stupendous melody that recalls Syd Barret era Pink Floyd. When they want to MGMT can still write impressive, hummable tunes – but that’s the point – they just don’t want to.

‘Your Life is a Lie’ for example has a fantastically nagging hook that sticks in your head, but for a reason known only to the band they make a mockery of it, repeating said hook until it evolves from an ear-worm in to a parasite. ‘Introspection’ is another song with real potential that’s undone by indulgence and extravagance. The production provided by the usually masterful Dave Friedman buries the potential deep in a boggy pit of synths and compression. The above songs make it out of the same pit alive by the skin of their teeth but the likes of ‘A Good Sadness’ and ‘Astro-Mancey’ get well and truly buried and forgotten.

The second half of the album just rambles along with no structure. It’s hard to convey just how plodding ‘Death and All His Friends’ feels for example. ‘Plenty of Fish In The Sea’ on the other hand is juvenile, throwaway and cheap, but in that sense it’s the closest relation to the band’s early hits. It comes from the same carefree place as ‘Electric Feel’ and it doesn’t sound burdened or heavy. unfortunately It sticks out like a sore thumb.

I think that’s the most frustrating thing for fans like myself. It’s not that we want MGMT to write another ‘Electric Feel’ (although the album would certainly benefit from something as sprightly as that) – the band themselves seem to be the only ones hung up on that notion. We want them to be true to themselves, we want them to be experimental, we want them to push the boundaries but we also want them to play to their strengths, and they don’t do that here. They are naturally melodic, naturally humourous and naturally quirky but they seem hell-bent on going in the opposite direction. This is a cynical, indulgent and self-sabotaging mess that will come as a massive disappointment not only to fans of ‘Oracular Spectacular’ but fans of ‘Congratulations’ as well. The fact that it’s occasionally brilliant just makes it all the more aggravating! MGMT are still a great band – there is enough evidence of that here – they need to learn to embrace that fact.


MGMT ‘Congratulations’ – Review

13 Apr

Mgmt’s first album ‘Oracular Spectacular’ began with ‘Time to Pretend’, a sort of rock n roll shopping list – super models, drugs, champagne, divorce and an untimely death. It may have been tongue in cheek but the band probably ticked more boxes in the last two years than they had intended, and in a way they became the type of people they were mocking. They open their new album with an equally declarative number, ‘It’s working’, a song about the despair of being famous and the downside of said drugs. ‘My Mind’s affected, it’s empty now –  I see the signs of ageing.’ MGMT have dropped the satire (Well nearly), they’ve dropped the synths (well nearly) and they’ve gone from post nu rave to pastoral psychedelia, with an emphasis on past.  We’re not in Kansas anymore…

Except that we kind of are. You see as much as broadsheet journos and the NME would like to convince us that MGMT have abandoned ship and ‘gone weird’, it doesn’t ring true – not to anyone that actually heard ‘Oracular Spectacular’ rather than just the singles.  Song number two on that album was called ‘Weekend Wars’ and featured lyrics about ‘Mental mystics twisted in a metal car’. So on that basis was anyone really expecting an album made up entirely of synth pop? To set the record straight ‘Congratulations’ is not a grand departure but rather a natural progression. And it is a true triumph.

Whilst there are only nine tracks each individual song is like ten songs in one. If you heard first single (except don’t call it a single) ‘Flash Delirium’ then you will know what to expect. There is no traditional course that the band follow, just as you think a song is going one way it will cut diagonally and take you in a completely new direction. Hence flute solos, a glam rock interlude and a psych rock freak out in just four minutes. There are rarely choruses and it’s unusual for a theme (either musical or lyrical) to hold Andrew’s attention for more than a verse. Whilst this adventurous streak is admirable and insures repeated listens are a must, it sometimes leads to incohesive and even directionless songs. A good example is the 12 minute odyssey ‘Siberian Breaks’ which seems to ramble on forever without ever really getting anywhere.

But since when has rock music had to have direction – how rock n roll is that? Besides whilst individual songs lack a beginning middle and end the album itself has a better structure. It begins with a trio of perfect pop songs albeit pop in the old-fashioned sense of the word – anyone wanting radio 1 hit’s should steer clear of this album. ‘Song For Dan Treacy’ is a highlight for it’s Zombies style harmonies and typically witty lyrics about the lost soul of British punk. The middle section of the album is the aforementioned ‘weird’ bit but then the album crashes back down to earth with ‘Brian Eno’, a song surprisingly enough about Brian Eno. ‘Congratulations’ does name check a lot of unusual people, like Dan Tracey and in track eight Lady gaga, or Lady Dada as she is refered to here. I don’t think the freaky instrumental is essential but it’s not a horrible diversion, and it’s as weak as the album gets.

Things are brought to a close with the title track, easily the song most reminiscent of old school MGMT – although it’s more ‘Pieces of What’ than ‘Time To Pretend’. The song sums up the bands difficult relationship with, if not quite fame, then popularity. ‘It’s hardly sink or swim when all is well if the ticket sells’. The band clearly felt some conflict between being popular and making the music that they wanted to make. They also feel the weight of expectation more keenly than most groups do And yet despite this they have made an album that is unflinching in its goals and pretty heartless about any fans that get lost on the journey. Like Arctic Monkeys did last year they have made a divisive album that will be misunderstood by the majority of fans that brought the first record, but loved by the few that do get it.

I can’t imagine that anyone would be disappointed with what this album is; it’s an ambitious, colourful and imaginative record that sounds more interesting than anything else out this year. It is however easy to see why people would be disappointed with what this is not. This is not a itunes friendly album and this is not going to translate to radio or the clubs very easily. MGMT have decided where their loyalties lie and it’s with the strange. Now it’s up to their fans to do the same.



10 Mar

MGMT have released the first taster for their new album ‘Congratulations’, a song called ‘Flash Delirium’. The album is one of my most anticipated of the year and this song is as good as I hoped it would be. It’s a weird, mini epic that features mind bending lyrics and several different sections (my favourite part is the glam rock bit about 1/3rd of the way through). The song is a free download from MGMT’s website or you can hear it below.

Congratulations MGMT

9 Feb

MGMT have announced first details of their second album, the follow-up to ‘Oracular Spectaclar’. The 9 track record (so much for double album) will be out on April 13th and it will be called….. ‘Congratulations’. Below is the tracklisting

1. It’s Working
2. Song for Dan Treacy
3. Someone’s Missing
4. Flash Delirium
5. I Found a Whistle
6. Siberian Breaks
7. Brian Eno
8. Lady Dada’s Nightmare
9. Congratulations

Siberian Breaks is apparently a 12 minute freakout that features 8 different songs in one whilst Lady Dada’s nightmare is an instrumental inspired by Lady Gaga. Things are going to get very weird. The stuff they have already played live is a bit more conventinal, displaying more of a surf rock sound fused with the modern psychedelia of their debut. I am extremely excited about this album, it could be mega. Below are live versions of a couple of the tracks.

Yeasayer ‘Odd Blood’ – Review

2 Feb


Remember Mystery Jets first album? The weird one? ‘Making Dens’ was a pretty fine piece of work but the chances are you remember the band for their poptastic second album ‘Twenty One’. It was a change of direction, a pretty mainstream direction, but it worked wonders for the group. Yeasayer have attempted to make the same transition with their second album, ‘Odd Blood’, and the results are a little bit more mixed.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a good album, at times it’s pretty brilliant and It’s also as weird as they come. But my first reaction was one of disappointment. Their debut ‘All Hour Cymbals’ did for Middle Eastern music what Vampire Weekend did for African music. That may be a bit of a simplification but the group essentially took the music and themes of world music and westernized them. It was a beautiful vocal based record with some eccentric tendencies, catchy melodies and an indie sensibility.

I was expecting ‘Odd Blood’ to be progression of the same idea, in the same way that ‘Contra’ progressed Vampire Weekend’s sound. Instead this album is a fairly radical departure for the band. The harmonies and vocal chants have largely be scrapped which is slightly sad, and the exotic instruments have also been replaced by exotic computers. As I say, this is still an eccentric album (the first track is one of the freakiest beginnings to any album I’ve ever heard) it’s just eccentric in a different way.

So Yeasyer have gone synth pop, kind of. ‘O.N.E’ and ‘Ambling Alp are bona-fide hits in the making, both counting among the catchiest songs I’ve heard in yonks. lyrically they have also moved on from bizarre tales of the future to songs about more down to earth themes, there is even a song called ‘Love Me Girl’. Well the guy is clearly in love with someone, on ‘I Remember’  he repeats ‘You’re stuck in my mind all the time.’ This track is another winner.

If the album was this consistent over ten tracks then I would say their move to synth pop has been a success. However, like the first album, there are a couple of duds on here. Nothing shockingly bad (although ‘The Children will certainly raise a few eyebrows), but ‘Strange Reunions’ feels a bit like filler and the album ends on a rather anti climactic note with ‘Grizekla’. Luckily the strong songs far outweigh the weak ones but it does mean that ‘Odd Blood’ is a very good album rather than a great one.

So Yeasayer have aimed for success and good on them, they certainly deserve it. This is a bold departure for the band and It’s going to win them more fans than it will loose them. ‘Odd Blood’ has some strange moments but it is surely destined for the radio, and thats just fine with me.


Albums to look forward to in 2010!

28 Nov

1. TBA – Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson was working with the likes of Will I Am and Akon right before his death but the album had been in the works for many years before that. It was planned to be released ages ago but Jackson kept pushing it back, but now we may fnaly get to hear it in 2010. This is the most anticipated album of next year because everybody is interested to see what Jackson was up to in his final years of productivity and how he would sound in the 21st century, working with some of the coolest names around. Who knows in what form we will hear material, we just want to hear it as he would have wanted.

2. TBA – The Strokes

We have been waiting for the next Strokes album for so long there is an almost certainty that it won’t live up to expectations. That said, ‘Phrazes For The Young’ was unexpectedly good and hopefully the next Strokes album (If it comes next year) can be even better. The chances of them pulling of another Is This It, or even ‘Room On Fire’ may be slim but most people would be happy with something more thought out than ‘First Impressions of Earth’ which wasn’t as bad as some people remember but hardly set the world on fire.

3. TBA – The Drums

Easily the most anticipated debut of next year, The Drums ‘mini LP’ released a few months ago was a breath of fresh air and hopefully the album will build on that. It’s not been said whether fan favourites such as ‘Lets Go Surfin’ will appear on the record but new songs including ‘Forever and ever amen’ almost certainly will.

4. Astro Coast – Surfer Blood

A great new band who combine surf punk and weezer-esque anthems, this album is out in January and is already getting a lot of buzz. Set to include the awesome ‘Swim to Reach The End’.

5. TBA – LCD Soundsystem

The follow-up to the best dance album of the noughties can’t be as good as ‘Sound of Silver, can it? The cynic in me says no way but if anyone can do it then LCD Soundsystem can.

6. Congratulations – MGMT

They have previewed a few tracks from congratulations and they all sound like classic MGMT. The album may be a double, with one disc dedicated to pop and the other psychedelia, or that may have been a massive joke. Either way this is going to be a big, crazy event.

7. Contra – Vampire Weekend

Cousins didn’t really live up to my expectations, it sounded too similar to what I have heard from VW before. Hopefully this isn’t too representative of the album because it would be a shame if ‘Contra’ is just a retread for the band. I really look forward to finding out.

8. TBA – British Sea Power

‘Do You Like Rock Music’ was so much better than I could have hoped, and it’s true follow up is due next year. No hint yet on which direction the band are going in but I doubt we will see much of a departure from the art rockers.

9.  The Soft Pack – The Soft Pack

At the beginning of the year The Soft Pack seemed to be the most exciting band in indie. At the end of the year they still haven’t released their debut and bands like Girls and The Drums have stolen their thunder. But finally The Soft Pack will be releasing their LP in January and I can’t wait.

10. TBA – Arctic Monkeys

‘Humbug’ split fans down the middle but it seems that their next album will see Arctic Monkeys repeating it’s hard rock and long hair formula. They say they want to record it fast and keep it heavy so it’s perfectly possible that we will get to hear the album late next year.

11. Odd Blood – Yeasayer

Yeasayer are one of the most innovative bands of recent memory, their sound is a combination of vocal harmonies, world music, tribal chants and electronica. ‘Ambling Alp’ was the first taste from album number 2 and if the rest of the record is as good then ‘Odd Blood’ should be one to look out for in 2010.

12. Gershwin/Disney projects – Brian Wilson

The Beach Boys genius has got two projects lined up for 2010. He will be reworking the music of Gershwin in the traditional Brian Wilson style and then he will be having a go at the Disney classics. Both albums will be released on the Disney label next year and whilst they could be disasters, if anyone can pull it off then Brian Wilson can.