June 6, 2010
MGMT shocked the world with the release of Oracular Spectacular in 2008. The album’s most popular tracks, “Time to Pretend,” “Kids,” and “Electric Feel” became commonly known among music lovers of all ages and every genre. These three singles generated a massive fan base for the band with their catchy melodies, use of synthesizers, and fascinating electronic rock blend. Those who cared enough to check out the band’s other songs were not in any way disappointed either by the stylistically different rest of the album that may not have received as much attention, but were certainly just as good (or even better).
Oracular Spectacular had something to offer for everyone, whether it was music to dance to, intriguing sounds to analyze, or just purely enjoyable, mood brightening songs. While many were unsure of what to think of MGMT at first, it was certain that they were a band to watch; Rolling Stone felt the same way, as did many other major music publications. As the group quickly became one of the most talked about bands in the industry, more and more heads began to turn, and most of those heads seemed to be nodding. However, once the whole world was watching, the question was, how would Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser handle all of the hype, and would the two be able to satisfy the ears of listeners in the future who now had such high expectations of them?
Questions were answered this year on April 13th with MGMT’s release of Congratulations, their sophomore album, though answers varied. Opinions of the album are as drastically different as they are due to the fact that every fan is looking for something different in MGMT’s music. While some still just want to dance, others needed mind-blowing change, and change is what they got.
From listening to any track off of the psychedelic trip of an album, Congratulations, it’s clear that Andrew and Ben were not trying to re-create Oracular Spectacular. Radio hits will not be found on this new album because there was no attempt to make them. Though the urge to sing along may not be as great as it once was, Congratulations offers something to listeners who chose to love Oracular for its obscurities. It’s an album that must be devoured in one sitting in order to experience its intended effects.
The first sounds off the album are a fast-paced guitar scale, mirrored by the same scale on bass in “It’s Working.” The vocals are relaxed and sink into pockets of blissful perfection, comparable only to the feelings described by the lyrics. Instrumental pauses, sporadic cosmic effects, and extreme changes in pace also fit the lyrics well.
After an ode to Dan Treacy of Television Personalities on track two comes “Someone’s Missing.” Starting off slow as a spacey ballad with echoey falsetto vocals, the song builds up and spirals into a disco jam, fading out before the sudden change is even close to being done digested.
However, the track that has received the most attention by far is “Flash Delirium,” the first song to be released for download before Congratulations came out. “Flash Delirium” is perhaps the greatest combination of genres and styles packed into one song that most have heard in a while, making it instantly despised by any who see it as forced and easily loved by those who appreciate the band’s effort to incorporate sounds that most groups would never risk putting together in one song. Featuring the already introduced synthesized euphoria found throughout the beginning of the album, some doo-wop, and even a surprising flute solo, “Flash Delirium” manages to climax within its chaotic last 20 seconds.
Responding to the confused reactions of MGMT fans to the song, Goldwasser proceeded to apologize in an interview by Spinner Magazine. “When we first wrote that song, we were laughing so hard… we thought it was the funniest thing we’d ever heard. And then we got used to it, it started to sound more normal. I’m sure there are plenty of people who think it’s completely weird and not what they were expecting. I’m sorry,” were Goldwasser’s exact words. It was almost appalling to hear an actual apology for the song, but when MGMT later released a short video that showed they were taking people’s reactions very lightly and laughing about it, it seemed more likely that their label had strongly encouraged them to provide an “explanation” to their fans even if they themselves hadn’t seen it as necessary.
Though it does take time to absorb most of Congratulations, – especially the 12 minute long “Siberian Breaks” – its more focused tracks like “Congratulations” and “I Found A Whistle” provide stability and normality where little is found elsewhere. The album is most solid with its beginning and end, thus many listeners may get lost in their own thoughts throughout the middle (which may be exactly how the band wanted it to be).
Many listeners feel that Congratulations is more an album of scattered thoughts than a cohesive work. However, it’s certain that VanWyngarden and Goldwasser were able to successfully create a record that truly represents who they are as people. In the position the two were in after Oracular Spectacular was so well-received by the public, many bands would have stayed in their safety zone and stuck to what they knew people loved. Most of the album has a lot to do with how they feel about their growing popularity, and how sometimes it doesn’t exactly feel right to them. Therefore it makes sense in many ways that Congratulations was as drastic of a change in direction as it was. MGMT took risks in releasing it, which is highly admirable and says a lot about them as musicians. It’s clear that they care more about being true to themselves musically than pleasing the public. VanWyngarden and Goldwasser know that those who understand the album are the kind of fans they want to keep around.
Congratulations is flawless when it comes to quality of sound, having been produced and engineered beautifully. Though it may take a few listens for many to start to like it, once listeners move beyond the fact that it’s incredibly different from Oracular, it’ll be much easier to appreciate it for what it is and look forward to the exciting changes VanWyngarden and Goldwasser have in store for us all in the future.