MGMT treated fans to an unexpected preview of its much anticipated sophomore album, Congratulations, when it leaked earlier this month. Not officially out until April 13th, the band decided to stream the album on its official website. Known for catchy electronic hits like “Time to Pretend,” “Electric Feel,” and “Kids,” band members Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden unnerved fans when they announced there would be no singles on the track list. MGMT also warned fans that if they were expecting something along the lines of “kids pt.2,” they would be sorely disappointed.
A relatively young band, the group originally known as “The Management” is a pair of New Yorkers who a typically wanted to play music for the hell of it and ended up catching the attention of a major label Columbia instead. After unleashing a digital version, the pair released their revolutionary synthpop Oracular Spectacular on CD in January 2008. The album was a huge success, hitting number 1 on the Billboard’s Top Heatseekers chart and being named Rolling Stone’s 18th best album of the decade to go along with a few Grammy nominations.
Taking all that into consideration, you’d expect surmise that MGMT would release an album to further them on the path to stardom. Alas, in an attempt to avoid the proverbial sophomore slump, Congratulations takes a different tack. The group takes a hiatus from music biz reality, leaving mainstream sound n the rearview mirror as they approach something resembling heterodox. Take everything you know about the band and its previous release and throw it right out the window. Congratulations explores the sounds of Oracular Spectuacular that were overshadowed by the hookiness of that album.
“Flash Delirium,” the would-be leadoff single, leaves behind a conventional chorus and catchy beats, sounding a bit like 1970s Cars with its unstructured vitality. Point blank, the entire album has a vintage vibe. The opener “It’s Working” features an echoing harmony and bumping bass line almost reminiscent of synthpop Beach Boys. “Brian Eno”, named for the influential new wave and electronica artist and producer, and “Song for Dan Treacy” also has that very surf-synth quality. “Lady Dada’s Nightmare” has so much jagged guitar work and haunting piano that it sounds, with apologies to Jim Morrison (who is probably rolling around in his very famous grave), sounds very “Doors-esque.” The biggest trip by far on this retro road would have to be the opus, “Siberian Breaks,” an erratic 12-minute kaleidoscope of spacey keys and color in the middle of the album. It is only the track “Someone’s Missing” that moderately resembles their former glory, with a feel-good mellow falsetto.
If Oracular Spectacular was a celebration of something modernly voltaic, think of Congratulations as its complete opposite, a celebration of something eccentrically archaic. The album comes off as a loving tribute to psychedelic rock. Some will love it and want to dust off their parents’ vinyl records, while others, including fair-weather pop star of the moment chasers will loathe it and chuck it in the waste bin. I, for one, will do the former. I congratulate MGMT on a refreshingly unexpected and un-hipster album. To make your own take catch them at In The Venue June 4th. You can also visit the band’s official website http://whoismgmt.com or catch it on ITunes or a music retailer near you.