Monday, May 17, 2010

MGMT - Congratulations

There’s something spectacular, really, about the first few moments of MGMT’s second album Congratulations. Opener “It’s Working” plays out in a relentless blend of intricately layered harmonies and psychedelic surf rock and new wave that forwards MGMT’s idiosyncratic vision but simultaneously recalls the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, and even the Jesus and Mary Chain, pioneers who once boldly challenged musical conventions. Why, then, has MGMT received generally mixed reviews for their sophomore effort? “It’s Working” is not a fluke; almost every track highlights the band’s creativity and reverence for some of music’s most engaging artists and genres. And like their apparent influences, MGMT also seem to be manipulating and mixing genres to create something interesting and accessible. Other bands that are usually rewarded for such creativity, however, are not working in the shadow of Oracular Spectacular.

Though MGMT’s first album helped them establish their musical credibility and gain almost instant popularity from both mainstream and indie music listeners, it is clear from Congratulations that the band did not want to simply expand the sound of Oracular Spectacular. They wanted to reinvent themselves.

Some have criticized this natural evolution, however. Upon a careful listen, though, I would argue that any overt changes in sound, for the most part at least, make for a better, more mature and impressive record. Instantly catchy songs like “Kids” and “Electric Feel” are gone, but in their place are tracks that invite repeated listens, tracks that are, especially in terms of longevity, ultimately more rewarding. “Song for Dan Treacy,” for instance, isn’t made for the clubs, but its interesting vocal effects, complex melodies, and rapidly shifting styles give listeners a reason to care about Congratulations months and years from now. And the epic, twelve-minute “Siberian Breaks” – the track that is sure to generate at least some kind of buzz – chiefly highlights the band’s progression as serious musicians; it isn’t immediately accessible like “Time to Pretend,” but it does transition through time changes and genres to surprisingly cohesive and beautiful ends.

But Congratulations is not a complete departure for MGMT. That’s what’s so unusual about the recent resistance against the album: many of its elements would have fit nicely with Oracular Spectacular’s weird Rolling Stones-meets-electro-pop formula. The latter half of album standout “Someone’s Missing,” for example, echoes with groovy Jackson 5 beats and MGMT’s idiosyncratic use of high-pitched, slightly distorted vocals. And “I Found a Whistle” maintains the Out of Our Heads-era melodies found in “The Youth” and ends with a sweeping crescendo similar to the one in “Weekend Wars.”

I’m not suggesting that Congratulations is a perfect album; “Brian Eno,” for instance, feels rushed, and “Lady Dada’s Nightmare,” interesting as it may be, could possibly pass for “filler” (an instrumental, mildly repetitive track like that isn’t appropriate for a nine-track record). I am arguing, however, that it should be recognized for its many successful elements and judged on its own terms, apart from the success of Oracular Spectacular. And even though such a complex, creative album requires the listener’s dedication, the experience is well worth the effort.


Blogger paige said...

i like "i found a whistle" and "brian eno"

agreed, while it's not as easily lovable as oracular spectacular, it's still a nice album and worth repeated listenings.

May 17, 2010 at 6:36 PM  
Blogger a said...

Well. Guess i'll have to listen to it again.

May 19, 2010 at 2:32 PM  

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