“Be quick dear, times are uncertain, one month crawling, next year blurring, decades in the drain, and monograms on the brain. Decide what’s working and what’s moved on to the last phase – the floodgate alien days. I love those alien days.” And so, Andrew VanWynGarden opens the third MGMT record where the second left off. On the Congratulations title track and closer, MGMT acclimate to fame and the weird business of the music industry, and on “Alien Days”, they look back and say “What the hell just happened?” Disorientation is an element that you’ll be seeing a lot of if you dive into the self-titled record. Whether they are drifting through “Alien Days”, fighting a “Mystery Disease”, or tinkering with “Astro-Mancy”, Andrew and Ben are diving deeper down the rabbit hole into uncharted, psychedelic nightmare land. MGMT is a harsh, challenging, and kind of brutal record. But more than anything, it finds Andrew and Ben back discovering a new realization of their musical vision whether you like it or not.
The biggest irony of MGMT is that a lot of people begged for this album to happen. After (the totally excellent) Congratulations dropped and every fair-weathered fan’s flinch reaction of “Where the hell is Oracular Spectacular 2?” materialized, rumors started to float. Some said that their label, Columbia Records, was going to enforce more direct control over the sound of their next record to cash in on the success of their earlier work. Some said the situation was even worse. But Andrew and Ben shot them all down. For the third record, only one aspect of the band’s production was going to go back to the “old way” for them. Instead of working with a full band, Andrew and Ben would be in the studio as a duo. This meant, to some, that the band would be returning to a more production-heavy groove. These feelings were further affirmed with VanWynGarden’s name drop of Aphex Twin as a heavy influence for the record. So when “Alien Days” was released in April of this year, expectations were high. Thankfully, MGMT proved then, and with the full album here now, that nothing is changing about their direction, starting from poppy roots engrained in the fluke hits they wrote in 2005 and venturing at breakneck speed towards the unknown.
I can happily say “Alien Days” is the most accessible thing on MGMT – the rest of it will freak you out and show you sights and sounds you’ve never imagined. The album’s second single “Your Life Is A Lie” is a two minute alarm clock buzz of a track. There is little to no pop song structure here – it’s just one big explosion with a bombastic and cynical message. Not lyrically unlike their early hit “Time To Pretend”, “Your Life Is A Lie” dives head first into 21st century face-work and egocentrism. That cowbell will echo in your ears for days reminding you not to ignore the siren’s call here. But the looking within doesn’t end there – “Introspection” puts a spacey spin on 60s pop while Andrew almost sarcastically flirts with self-learning in the chorus while documenting failure after failure in the verses. Much like Congratulations and Oracular Spectacular before it, MGMT has a weird, dark sense of humor, which manifests itself most in the album’s last three tracks. VanWynGarden serenades death with a painstakingly serious analysis of an anthropomorphic death as a friend before bursting into the unsettling Beatles-esque “Plenty Of Girls In The Sea”. There’s plenty of other delightful weirdness to be had elsewhere, too. “Mystery Disease” is destined to be a live staple for the band, with its driving psychedelic groove and totally relevant message of societal infection. “A Good Sadness” and “Astro-Mancy” probably take the cake as far as confusion goes, but both are pretty rewarding cuts if you take the time to let them sink in.
After we’ve reached the album’s highest point of morbidity, not much about “Plenty Of Girls” relaxes you before the wandering of “An Orphan Of Fortune” sets in. Much like he did with “Congratulations”, VanWynGarden closes the next record with personal statement – a sort of “where we are right now” moment. You couldn’t miss it on “Congratulations”, but here, it’s a bit more obscure. I think there’s good reason to – there’s no doubt that at this point, with the critics saying what they will and an ongoing comparison to pop hits they’ll never escape, that MGMT tread some harsh territory. But with this third record, it’s encouraging to see rumors dispelled of a cap being put on the freaky genius that these guys have to offer. As Andrew and Ben venture further into the unknown, the horizon isn’t golden – it’s more of a twilight. MGMT are a band in flux, but that’s not in any way a bad thing. There’s a reason that the band’s website and mantra has been “Who is MGMT?” for some time now – three albums in and we still don’t know. They are continuing to grow and evolve and learn more about who they are and what they want to attain, and with MGMT, they are another step closer.
MGMT is out now on Columbia Records.