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.

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Beach House’s Teen Dream was a pleasant surprise and is an all around ethereal album. On track one, harmonies coalesce with guitar and soft use of the hi-hat to begin the album. “Zebra” builds up as the bass drum comes in softly, and lyrics begin to form. The harmonies fade into the background, as the instruments used so delicately at first start to be utilized for harder sound and finer details can be noticed. The same guitar melody stays throughout the song, with an underlying bass ride.

Track two, “Silver Soul,” begins with more melancholy harmonies, and a simple tambourine makes an appearance as vocalist Victoria Legrand hits the high notes.

“Norway” comes next and is even more pleasant than the first two tracks, with sweet “ah, ah, ah’s” complimenting the dominant vocals. Guitars murmur and percussion whispers back, making you wish the song would never end.

However, it does, as all songs must, and “Walk in the Park” commences, introducing the use of a drum machine that could only be made to work as well as it does by a band like Beach House. One’s ears capture the importance of the chorus upon first listen, but it’s not until you listen to the song through a couple times that it really begins to impact you. “In a matter of time, it would slip from my mind / In and out of my life, you would slip from my mind” unites listeners whether they realize it or not, the thoughts of all hearing the words simultaneously traveling to a common place for different reasons. It’s a song that’s hard not to start over right away once it ends.

Keyboards compete in “Used to Be,” making the off-beat of this one the most interesting. As the song progresses, the melody grows more and more beautiful, providing instant happiness upon listening.

Guitars match synthesizers and everything about “Lover of Mine” seems constant, making one of the most peaceful tracks on the album.

Elements of previous songs on the album reappear on “Better Times” at first, making it sound like the song’s already been heard. However, a unique guitar riff finally kicks in and allows Beach House to enter a new plane of existence. Climaxing rhythms take away the relaxation of the song for just a moment before returning to peaceful regularity, but further surprises lie just around the corner with enthralling vocals and a fast fade.

“10 Mile Stereo” is an airy number that would be best perceived while flying on an airplane in the midst of clouds. Its dreamy synthesizers make it one of the best tracks on the album.

Delightful piano parts make up “Real Love” and the gentle vocals augment the song further, leading into the final track ten, “Take Care.” It’s no different from any other song on the album in the way that it allows your thoughts to swirl around you as you take the music in.

Teen Dream is a release that most will find hard to take off repeat. Beach House may not create the most exciting albums, necessarily, but this one is sure to clear your mind and take you to a better place when you need it.

Most important tracks to check out: Walk in the Park, 10 Mile Stereo, Zebra

Vampire Weekend – Contra

January 31, 2010

A band’s sophomore album is extremely important – listeners always hope to hear development in a group since their first release and hopefully not familiar sounding songs. While a killer first album is what gets people interested at first, a band’s second album is what really determines their future.

Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut was clean, refreshing, and successful. It wasn’t a life changing album for most, but the Afro-beat influence and use of strings, along with respectable song structure, and most of all, catchiness, attracted many. That being said, it seemed as if they were holding back at times, making a great but safe album with few risks – which is acceptable for a new band. The question was would they be able to top the pleasant album that won over so many?

Contra, Vampire Weekend’s highly anticipated follow-up record, introduces listeners to a completely new side of them. There’s more to this one than a purely enjoyable sound, as the band took a lot of risks and improved upon their song writing abilities tremendously with this ten track album. Processed sounds meet genuine sounds and the contrast between them is what makes Contra so interesting, along with the combination of various genres that could not possibly be blended together as effectively by any other band. Koenig’s vocals are far more passionate than ever, and their lyrics force listeners to view them as people with typical and relatable problems. “I Think Ur A Contra” ends the album and stands out as the most soulful track the band has ever released, with lyrics such as, “Never pick sides, never choose between two, but I just wanted you, I just wanted you.”

Contra hit number one on Billboard’s 200 within the first week of its release, being the 12th independently distributed album ever to do so since 1991. Listeners who tried so hard to find flaws in Vampire Weekend the first time around will have a much more difficult time doing so with Contra.

Bowerbirds

November 3, 2009

One of my new favorite bands is Bowerbirds. Perfect to listen to in the midst of autumn, their folky sound warms my heart and gives me chills at the same time. Soft percussion, clean acoustic guitar, sweet accordion and even sweeter violin, subtle keys, and beautiful vocal harmonies. Their second album, Upper Air will undoubtedly make my top ten for the year – I’m so impressed and wish I had discovered them sooner.

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Bowerbirds – Ghost Life

owen – new leaves

September 6, 2009

Mike Kinsella’s New Leaves comes out September 22nd, and may be my new favorite Owen album (though it’s difficult to say). The sound is new and different and fantastic, and much more complex; orchestral sounds were incorporated into most songs, adding on to the beauty of the record (“A Trenchant Critique” as a perfect example). Most songs concern his relationships with people – how he’s content and has finally grown to accept them as they are, or tired of their current state.

There’s nothing more frustrating than listening to an album where the lyricist has tried too hard to create metaphors; The words come out unclear. In New Leaves, this is of course not the case at all. The lyrics are as honest as ever (such as in “Curtain Call”), and you can tell the words came naturally. They’re clever and easy to relate to, which is one of the many reasons why every Owen album is so appealing to people.

The album is 38 minutes of guitars conversing with one another, delightful keys, sincere vocals, and cotton candy flavored strings. Different moods can be detected with every change in song, like a diary transcribed into music. So far, there’s no such thing as a disappointing Owen album, and I don’t think there ever will be.

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Brand New – Daisy

August 30, 2009

Well, I just downloaded the leak of Brand New’s highly anticipated upcoming release, Daisy (I do fully intend on purchasing it when it comes out); I have to say, I’m impressed. I’ve always liked Brand New, but I’ve never been able to get that into them. However, with this album, I found myself somewhat in awe while listening. It made me jump a few times, with some surprising transitions, but these songs seem to just really make sense together.

I jotted down my reactions to every song while lying in bed, so I figured I’d just re-write those on here, instead of typing up a formal review…

Vices  Old record quality sounding, or maybe it’s in my head. Female’s voice, sounds like an old song, though if it is, I don’t know it – could very be well be a Brand New original interpreted by an incredibly stylistically different vocalist just as much as any old song used as an intro for this song. COMPLETELY startled in my dark room, very HARD sound. Solid bass line. Screaming. Distortion. Not sure if this means the rest of the record will be like this; it’s not typical Brand New, but it’s working for me.

Bed  MUCH softer, track one threw me off a bit; not that I didn’t like it, but this sound is one I definitely prefer. Pretty mellow track, nothing special, but there’s something about it that I love. I’m liking this album already.

At the Bottom  “We never are what we intend.” I’ve already heard this one, but it’s still so easy to get into. DISTORTION. Buried vocals. Now they’re back.

Gasoline  Straight into drums. Hard vocals. Simple guitar, in comes bass, now it’s coming together, and it’s sounding loud, and sounding great. Is it just me or is this guitar at 1:25 sounding practically identical to the beginning of Taking Back Sunday’s Error:Operator, only in a slightly different key? 2:30, sudden halt after the last line – “Try to back away.” Sounds like an emergency. Helicopters, sirens… Now just a high pitched noise speeding up, making me write faster, making me somewhat nervous, but for what?

You Stole  Soft guitar and soft vocals. I’m calm again. REVERB! “If I’m a liar and you’re a thief, at least we both know where the other one sleeps.” Kicking in at the halfway point of these six minutes, now it’s dying back down for the chorus, and now it’s back, it’s louder. Great way to end it with only drums.

Be Gone  I see a desert. Heat waves. Distorted vocals, what’s he saying? It doesn’t matter, the guitar sounds so damn good with the bass drum. Part of me wishes this were longer, though I know that wouldn’t make sense musically.

Sink  Making me tap my pencil against this notebook. Great transitions, wow. Sudden end.

Bought A Bride  Awesome bass. 2:06 reminds me of another older song of theirs, I can’t think of the name, because I’m so focused on this song, but it doesn’t matter.

Daisy  I really like this, doing some subtle head banging, I must admit, even though it’s past 2 a.m. and I’m alone and lying in bed.

In A Jar  KILLER BASS. This is well produced.

Noro  This album keeps going back and forth from chill to hard sounding, more so than other Brand New albums. It works. Back to the female vocals + piano at the end. I feel like things are about to get loud again. Oh wait, this is the last song, so that can’t be. I love when albums start/end the same, a cycle completed. That was fucking sick.

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