Had Andrew and Ben not agreed (probably with a smirk) long ago that, should their ever-evolving musical collaboration called MGMT reach the crucial Third Record Threshold, they’d make that milestone eponymous, MGMT (the album) might well have been called something like Step Into The Club – (“because it’s like a multi-level club inside of our brains”) – or Now, That’s What I Call Now! or just MGMT – NOW! (like the Rolling Stones’ third album), because MGMT has indeed made a very now record.
Songs for anyone who’s “going through daily life feeling like an alien,” MGMT draws seasoned fans and new initiates alike into the band’s eureka zone, a psychic oasis offering the opposite of dumbed-down (smarted-up?) as sympathetic counsel or support for something like chronic mis-aligned-multiple-reality syndrome, Deja Vu-DO or Modern malaise – whatever you want to call it. With their resplendent third album, Ben and Andrew finally open up the MGMT inner sanctum through a brand-new sound that’s about what it’s all about: “sinking in – and forgetting about time.”
With these ten irreducible new tracks, Andrew and Ben have significantly enhanced the MGMT catalog, definitively shattering any remnants of creative confines or stylistic pigeon holes, while continuing a pattern of naming a record years before new music exists (they’d christened their second album Congratulations before their first, Oracular Spectacular, had even been released). Both minimal and maximal, MGMT is the band’s most fully-realized, provocative and accessible collection to-date; a dense swirling force-field of musical energies, once again shoving open the perimeters of pop.
The 21st century is finally, literally, in its teen years and MGMT– labeled “futurist pop” in 2007, when their earliest songs “Kids,” “Time To Pretend” and “Electric Feel” were palpably feeding the youthful zeitgeist–are responding to our current times with a refined, focused celebration of liberated consciousness, reflecting and refracting the human experience and our intersecting, increasingly complicated relationship with nature, technology and each other. MGMT is prismatically post-political. “It’s not ironic,” says Ben. “It’s take-it-at-face-value, but these days face value is pretty crazy.”
MGMT fans got their first taste of the eponymous third album when “Alien Days” was released as a limited edition single for Record Store Day in April 2013. Opening with the pure voice of a nine-year-old boy and culminating in a blown out repeating tear, “Alien Days” serves as a thesis statement of sorts–suggesting that MGMT is both tangible and ineffable, otherworldly yet grounded somewhere very near and dear– effectively bridging the stream flowing through the first two albums and confidently opening a sonic portal to the budding worlds that follow.
Zip into “Cool Song No. 2” (Remote Sensing) and MGMT quickly settles into a meditative groove, breezing into infinity like cartoon train tracks converging on the horizon, always shadowed by some insidious paranoid zonk; a twisted branch of transcendence just out of reach.
Partially inspired by a close friend who’d contracted a near-fatal lung infection and woken up in the clutches of opiate dependency, “Mystery Disease” sees convergence through another lens – obscured, algorithmic and constantly shifting focus. The entrancing “Mystery Disease” may be life itself, or sentience, or some parasitic temptress hidden in the microbes of eternity.
The paradoxically confident “Introspection” is a cover of a long-buried 1968 nugget by Faine Jade, a flowery Long Island psychedelic garage band, proving remarkably prescient with a chorus that plaintively asks: “Why have all the prophets lied?”
“Astro-Mancy” was one of the last songs completed for MGMT and is one of the album’s musical tours de force. Drawing lyrical inspiration from a poem by the surrealist bard Phillip Lamantia and a spectacularly other-worldly Aurora Borealis display Andrew witnessed while alone in Iceland, its words are enveloped in a breathing, pulsating organic quilt of fuzz and digital birds.
The album concludes with the anachronistically-named “An Orphan of Fortune,” built around a crystalline chord progression mined from one of the many long improvisations recorded while at Dave Fridmann’s Tarbox Road Studios. “We always felt it would make a good last song for the album,” says Andrew. “Once I finished the lyrics, something clicked and it felt like the whole album made more sense. Lyrically, that’s what I was trying to do with that one – reference the other songs on the album and summarize the major feelings throughout being shot through life all the time and learning how to watch it all flow by realizing that you’re an observer.”
MGMT was written, performed and produced entirely by Ben and Andrew (with the exception of the young boy’s vocals on “Alien Days”), the duo having returned for a third time to the familiar, humble wooded facilities of Tarbox Road Studios in Western New York state. With Dave Fridmann behind the console as co-producer/mixer/engineer and one-man support group, Ben and Andrew continuously experimented with new working processes, expanding on the creative chemistry they developed over the course of a decade of musical partnership. They struck a balance between control and abandon, allowing themselves the freedom to let the music tell them where it wanted to go. The initial writing period recalled the pair’s collegiate days of free form composition. “Just for fun, we started jamming a lot,” says Ben. “Just the two of us setting up synths and drum machines in the studio, sequencing things and going for hours on end. We were picking out sections of jams, editing them down in a way that resembled song structures, then doing overdubs on that. If there was some crazy thing that happened once, that often became part of the final song.”
Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden formed the first incarnation of MGMT (then called “the management”) as fellow students at Wesleyan University in 2001, taking root in the school’s fertile grassy hills as some improbable synthesis of Fugsian merry pranking and early 2000s Billboard pop wanking. Having toured twice with kindred spirits Of Montreal and released a 1000-copy EP on tiny indie label Cantora Records, MGMT miraculously signed with Columbia Records in November 2006, completing and recording their first album by the next spring, their first collaboration with producer Dave Fridmann.
With the wide release of Oracular Spectacular in January of 2008, MGMT’s reputation began snowballing, nay avalanching, on both sides of the Atlantic. The UK’s NME dubbed them “the best NY band about” in typical NME style, while Rolling Stone proclaimed them one of the “Top 10 Artists to Watch in 2008.”
Oracular Spectacular went on to hit #1 on the Billboard Top Heatseekers chart in the United States and proved especially popular with fans and critics in Europe and the UK, where it entered the charts at #12 in England and #5 in Ireland. Today, it is consistently ranked amongst the most celebrated pop albums of the 21st century.
Ben and Andrew brought on friends Will Berman (drums), James Richardson (guitar), and Matt Asti (bass) to tour major festivals and clubs all over the freaking place in 2008, sharing the stage and smudging the sage on successful tours with Beck, Yeasayer, Radiohead, Florence And The Machine and Tame Impala. Being on the road served as a true rock and roll immersion program that was a far cry from the tiny dorm room shows they were playing just three years prior; over the course of these 18 months, they transformed from a shaky rookie live act to a solid, well-respected psychedelic rock spectacle.
Without skipping a beat, the duo, along with the live band, began writing and recording their sophomore release in early 2009. Congratulations was released in April 2010, debuting at #2 on the Billboard 200. An inward-looking and softly-reflective 9-song folk-rock/post-punk suite co-produced by the legendary Pete Kember, the album initially threw some for a loop but eventually solidified a lasting core of MGMT devotees who lovingly gravitated toward the band’s honest and staunch reluctance to clone formulaic pop in the name of commercial success. The band performed “Flash Delirium” and “Brian Eno” on Saturday Night Live and toured extensively across the globe in support of the album, truly honing their show into a razor-sharp live experience.
After a fair bit of well-deserved down time in their home town of New York City, Ben and Andrew sat down in early 2012 and tried to pinpoint their mutual artistic goals for their third, self-titled LP. They wanted more space–more freedom–letting small ideas develop before self-consciously shutting them down; perhaps getting even further removed from that faintly lingering college mentality of intentionally making the listener uncomfortable.
“This album feels to us like coming down to earth in a way,” admits Ben. “We’re trying to be accessible but we’re trying to do something new within the realm of pop music. When we finally came close to finishing MGMT, everyone in the studio had the feeling that we’d made something really great.”
With this band, one can be pretty certain that many others will feel the very same way.