By Emily C. Pfeffer
Anticipation has the habit to set you up for failure, particularly when standards are set high. After Oracular Spectacular (2007), fans of the electro-rock band, MGMT, expected big things from their new album, Congratulations.
Their last album featured band members Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser, who together created hypnotic synthpop melodies with high falsettos and songs like “Electric Feel” and “Time to Pretend.” However, this time around their sound has changed.
On Congratulations, VanWyngarden and Goldwasser teamed up with Sonic Boom as well as members from their live band, including Matt Asti, Will Berman, and James Richardson to create an equally hypnotic sound, but slightly less electronic.
Congratulations takes MGMT’s music in an unexpected direction. Instead of continuing on with their catchy electronic syncing, they decided to take it down a notch. As a result, the album has an underlying surfer theme hidden in some tracks. It can especially be heard in “It’s Working,” which, VanWyngarden explained in an interview, is about rolling on E and living the “Time to Pretend” dream.
Lyrics from the track include, “But if I try to feel at all I am deceived. My mind’s affected, it’s empty now. As I lay down, I feel alright. My heart is racing.”
Another notable track is “Brian Eno,” which has a natural happy quality to it. The song was written about the experimental rock musician Brian Eno. It is clear the band was inspired by Eno after the lyrics, “He taught me many things. The wisdom of bleak stratagems. The prophet of a sapphire soul, presented through creative freedoms.”
MGMT has a history of screwing with musicality, so it’s no surprise that they dramatically mess with tempos in many songs. This album is going to take more than one listen to fully grasp, appreciate and accept. The songs won’t quite stick the same way as prominent songs in their last album did, but Congratulations is much more psychedelic and makes for awesomely easy listening.
Although they decided to walk an unexpected path, it’s exactly the kind of album that proves there’s more to MGMT than just a catchy debut. They demonstrate clear potential to expand musically. The band has decided not to release any singles off of Congratulations. They want their listeners to explore it for themselves.
While Oracular Spectacular put a lot of pressure on the anticipated quality of Congratulations, MGMT’s second album didn’t disappoint. Not only that, but it in turn set up anticipation for the next project.