MGMT – Congratulations (and six bands it reminds me of)

Congratulations

The new MGMT Congratulations is streaming for free over on NPR. The album sounds like The Coral, but not as good. Remember The Coral? No. They had an incredible debut album of psych-rock. The next three albums seriously fell off after that. I don’t even know if they still exist.

Congratulations sounds like it was produced underneath a quilt. Everything is flattened. I’m not sure why they would produce it like that. Maybe to make it sound more “authentic” 60’s psych. I see MGMT’s first album in a new, better light. I always was pretty ‘meh’ about it. I thought “Time To Pretend” was brilliant, especially lyrically. I thought “Electric Feel” was robotically funky and “4th Dimensional Transition” was good psych-rock. “Kids” was singsongy in a kinda ugly way. I think I’m talking about songs from the first album because nothing on Congratulations sticks out to me. MGMT said they purposefully didn’t write “singles” and won’t be releasing any singles. They want the album to be one solid body of work, and not have people only download the popular songs. I guess this is a “separate the real fans from the poseurs” move? Are there poseurs anymore? I think “cool indie” music is too available now.

The 12 minute epic track “Siberian Breaks” stands out due to sheer length. The beginning is very pretty, reminds me of Jefferson Airplane a little. The part after the Jefferson Airplane part sounds like the band Love. The end of the song has pretty computer blinking noises and a decent drum beat. I also think The Kinks “Village Green Preservation Society” era is a reference point for a lot of the album. “Brian Eno” is a good rock song, has a fun chorus, and has a neat little electric organ breakdown in the middle and end. I think it’d work as a single. “It’s Working” also reminds me of the band Love, which makes sense given the “psychness” of all this. I like the bongos (buried somewhere in the mix) and the harpsichord. But, in general, songs kinda shift in and out, weak melodies come and go. There’s some woodwind things here, electric organ there, spacey vocals over here, mellotrons there. Admittedly, this does lend the album a nice flow to it. Some of it is very pretty, like the beginning of the slow, spacey “Lady Dada’s Nightmare”, but in the middle they introduce buried, processed screaming and dissident violins and it kinda goes no where. The end of the song has some pretty piano and violin plucking.

MGMT left out the singles, but I’m not sure how compelling I find the music on Congratulations. Compare this album to The Flaming Lips last album Embryonic (which MGMT had a guest appearance on). Take “Convinced Of The Hex”, where Wayne Coyne sings the vocal hook, “that’s the difference between us”. Or “The Sparrow Looks Up At The Machine”, which has that martial snare drum and bass groove, over layers of guitar and synth stabs. Or the spacey “Silver Trembling Hands”, which has those beautiful shimmers of synth. Another band I kept getting reminded of is The Fiery Furnaces. Their songs often feature multiple parts that shift and turn. They’re pretty trippy. But, The Fiery Furnaces also write melodies that stick out.

Maybe it all comes down to the production on Congratulations. It really sounds like shit. Maybe with better production MGMT’s melodies would have stood out more to me. I don’t think it’s a bad album, but in their effort to make a cohesive “body of work” the album was flat to me.

Great album art though.

The Coral – Skeleton Key

Jefferson Airplane – In Time

The Kinks – Animal Farm

Love – Stephanie Knows Who

The Flaming Lips – Silver Trembling Hands

The Fiery Furnaces – Black-Hearted Boy

The MGMT website has the video for “Flash Delirium”, and it’s the kind of video that makes me wonder if MGMT explained to the participants what this shit means.

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