New York-based art rock duo MGMT has apparently doubled down on the psychedelia that it channeled on its extremely divisive sophomore album “Congratulations” and created the musical equivalent of a bad trip on their new self-titled album, “MGMT.”
Though laden with the group’s trademark acid mysticism and distorted guitar hooks, the album comes off as jumbled and discordant to the point of annoyance, and will surely be the subject of spirited debate among the band’s devoted followers for years to come.
This was not always the case for Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser, whose first EP, “Time to Pretend,” and debut album, “Oracular Spectacular,” received near-universal acclaim and skyrocketed the duo into fame, the main stages at Bonaroo and Coachella and even earned them several Grammy nominations.
Their second album, “Congratulations,” was criticized for being intentionally difficult to listen to and alienating the fan base that had fallen in love with the band’s DIY brand of kaleidoscopic pop-rock. With “MGMT,” VanWyngarden and Goldwasser seem to be consciously deviating even further from what made them successful in the first place.
“MGMT” is not nearly as playful or accessible as its predecessors. It can feel like a chore just getting through some of the tracks; almost unimaginable in their “Kids” days. The second half of the album is a blur, having no tracks that stand out at all because they are so sonically dense.
VanWyngarden and Goldwasser come off as a bunch of kids rapidly pushing buttons, trying to fill every track with as much sound as they can. The only tracks that do stand out are ones that harken back to previous works like “Flash Delirium” and “Congartulations” and the band’s forebearers in the psychedelic rock genre.
Both singles on the album, “Alien Days” and “Your Life is a Lie,” are the albums’ high points, if only because they do not inundate you in layers of sound and distortion. The drum hooks of “Mystery Disease” and the jangly guitar on “Introspection” show that the band is not a one-trick pony and still has some rock credibility. The influence of the Beatles, the Who, Donovan, and many others are readily felt on those tracks in particular.
Some will still lament the death of ‘pop MGMT.’ Aside from “Alien Days” and “Your Life Is A Lie,” there’s very little here that would entice the fans who never bothered with listening to “Congratulations.” But no one needs MGMT to churn out lazy copies of “Kids” or “Time to Pretend” for a paycheck.
Even though this album can be daunting and even unrewarding to listen to, one has to credit VanWyngarden and Goldwasser for not taking the easy way out and trying to “make it up” to their fans or to appease their record label by making the most radio-friendly record guaranteed to win awards. MGMT stuck to their creative guns, as it were, and expanded their vision without compromising it for anyone. That alone should be worthy of a listen, though it will not be an easy one for most.