September 18, 2013

Test Spins: MGMT, MGMT

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Many a critic and MGMT fan have called Congratulations, the band’s follow-up to breakout Oracular Spectacular, one of the biggest sophomore failures in recent memory. While the psych

edelic duo’s debut was pretty much a hit factory for the Brooklyn hipster dive bar set, Congratulations, which included a 12-minute epic, an instrumental track and a flip-off to legend Brian Eno, left listeners disappointed and perplexed. So I think it’s safe to say that I’m in the minority that actually liked Congratulations — it was a more cohesive effort and exhibited a mature new direction for Andrew Van Wyngarden and Ben Goldwasser. So it would only be natural that the band would push themselves even further on their third, self-titled outing. Well, turns out that isn’t always the case.

MGMT isn’t as much a confused, lazy, directionless misfire as it is a half-assed attempt to pull a Congratulations, or abandon the ubiquitous psych pop of Oracular Spectacular. Like Congratulations, MGMT works as a single body of work rather than a disconnected collection of singles. But where Congratulations succeeded (according to some), MGMT fails: while the former was a product of the band’s curiosity and determination, the latter is the result of MGMT getting lost in their own ideas, and possibly even their own hype.

MGMT is not necessarily a bad album — it’s just grossly unremarkable. Even though it starts off on a promising note with the raw “Alien Days” and “Cool Song No. 2,” nothing else really stands out enough for the album to be anything more than background music in said hipster dive bar. After the first two songs, which, unlike many of the remaining tracks, are actually enjoyable and skillfully composed, the album kind of takes a steady dive — just a bunch of weird, hokey tracks that trudge along with no real destination in mind, a description that has unfortunately come to be representative of a band that was once so promising.

The songs on MGMT evidently fall into one of two categories — there are the complex and layered ones that eventually turn monotonous, and the straight-up bizarre ones that frankly come off as stupid. In the latter category, the gimmicky “There’s Plenty of Girls in the Sea” (which the band performed on a recent late-night show donning scuba gear — ha) is MGMT’s confusing and far less amusing response to similarly cheeky Congratulations track “Brian Eno.”  “Introspection” reps the former with its annoying repetitiveness; even Van Wyngarden sounds bored. Sci-fi caper “Mystery Disease” and “Your Life is a Lie” also fall under this category with melodies that swiftly grow tiresome.

On songs like these, and really throughout the entire record, it’s almost as if the band was too lazy to even attempt to push themselves — they didn’t even bother coming up with a name for the album. It’s hard to tell what’s to blame for the band’s apathy, but there’s really no telling where they can go from this creative stalemate. Let’s just hope they’re game to produce something that’s actually memorable next time around.