Posts Tagged ‘MGMT’
We’re going to blame it on the food coma, red wine and hour of the night. George, Alexander and I wrote Aphera’s Top Ten Albums of 2010 on Christmas Eve at like 3 am after having consumed way too much of our mom’s delicious food and red wine. The result, we were so frantically trying to finish our list and go to bed, that we totally missed Santa delivering our gifts, and the several mishaps that occurred in our list.
So we’d like to apologize for the really inadequate writing that accompanied our list and some of the bizarre choices – Arcade Fire? You can take my word for it. I had nothing to say about the album. Please don’t go back and read the post.
In order to fix this catastrophe we are beginning a “Revisiting 2010” series. We are going to start this series with our greatest injustice – Not including MGMT.
Here is George reviewing MGMT’s Congratulations. The album is being placed at 5.5 on our Top Ten List. Below, George’s review and our reasons for touching something so sacred and eternal as a top ten list.
I can’t figure out if I want to reorder the list and put MGMT’s Congratulations in fifth to bump back Plastic Beach or behind Teen Dream to take seventh; it’s really grown on me as of lately so unfortunately I don’t have the hindsight to rank properly. Perhaps this defeats the point of doing a re-ranking at all but as for now I’m okay with merely undoing the injustice of leaving this album off the list entirely. This album reaches out to the listener in a very particular way that only a band like MGMT can. They were given prominent stages at festivals and radio airplay out the wazoo for their wonderfully poppy hits from Oracular Spectacular. This immediate stardom gave the Benjamin Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden of MGMT the means and the supposed right to make the next album with total creative freedom. The result shocked and repelled casual listeners. Most past reviewers of the album have touched upon this cautionary tale of premature development but I’m willing to take a different approach; the band did everything they could have and should have. The raw and expansive sounds of the album likely represent the true colors of the band and to disregard these and play into the demands of the audience is exactly the kind of thing that ruins bands. See beloved Thom Yorke on the subject here. Aside from the idealogical reasons for enjoying the album, it’s also perfectly playful and perfectly sentimental, full of Scooby-Doo moments, homages to the late greats, brilliant melodies and song structures like you’d expect Tarantino to come up with if he wrote music.
It’s like MGMT had to appease us with “Kids” in order for us to take Congratulations seriously. After all, Oracular Spectacular had us loving and respecting MGMT to the max. They knew we’d at least give Congratulations a listen… and they were hoping that some of us would see it for the masterpiece that it is. Unfortunately, most of us haven’t developed enough sophistication to fully appreciate Congratulations.
I learned my senior year of high school that some good music requires extreme sophistication. At the time, I was dating this guy who was the lead singer of a classic rock band, an accomplished guitarist, and a world renowned fiddler. He was giving me a ride home from school and put Bob Dylan on for the ride. I cringed and said, “Uh, I really don’t like him.” He looked at me, shocked, and probably wondering how he could continue hanging out with me and responded, “Well, he’s just too sophisticated for you.”
As a classical pianist, I was extremely offended at the time, but he was absolutely right. And as my sophistication grew so did my appreciation for Dylan.
MGMT’s Congratulations requires that same sophistication because they are giving us Dylan. MGMT is giving us Prokofiev’s Second Concerto. This stuff requires an acquired taste, sophistication and appreciation. There is no room for instant gratification.
Congratulations is dense. It gives your ear too much to grasp the first, second or third time through. It’s the polar opposite of Broken Bells. Danger Mouse gives you what you want to hear without any substance. MGMT gives you substance – oh, they give you too much to chew! Take the first song, “It’s Working”. It begins with a little riff that turns into a verse characterized by quick chord changes, spontaneous drumming, and then a pause… all within the first minute. Then a B section within the second minute, another pause… Something resembling a chorus is introduced in the third minute but then you get a complete tempo change as soon as the chorus ends! MGMT, you’re giving us a lot to digest. And “It’s Working” is a snack compared to “Siberian Breaks.”
But after listening to Congratulations many times, getting a chance to grasp some themes and melodies, dare I say, “it’s incredible.” Dare I say that the multi-part, “Siberian Breaks” is reminiscent of “Paranoid Android”, sometimes compared to “A Day in the Life”. Am I going too far? I don’t think so.
Some would fault MGMT for the density – but I’m not going to. There is a difference between over the top and dense. Over the top is like Rachmaninoff’s First Concerto – you listen and just wonder if all of it’s really necessary. Dense is like Prokofiev’s Second Concerto, you need every part of it, and on every listen you hear more and more of it and it becomes better and better. That’s MGMT’s Congratulations.
I think MGMT was dying to showcase their full potential – I think they suffered through the people friendly Oracular Spectacular so that they could bring us the more obscure Congratulations. They really poured everything they could into this album. They did not hold back – and why should they? They already proved to us that they can write hit singles like “Electric Feel”. Now they’re moving forward – they’re just hoping we can stay on their level. Hey, it took two reviews but I’m there.
I can’t decide whether what they did was genius or borderline suicidal. Genius: I guarantee they will not be nominated for a Grammy after this spectacle – they basically said, FU, whatever, whatever, we do what we want. So the novelty of MGMT is still there. Hell, they’re rebels now. Borderline Suicidal: I bet you clicked through the songs waiting for the next “Kids,” or even something resembling “Weekend Wars.” And by the time you got to “Lady Dada’s Nightmare,” you were like, “wait.. seriously?” And you finished sampling the songs all disappointed, turned away from the album forever.
The problem is not that MGMT set the expectations too high, it’s just we weren’t expecting what we ended up getting. It’s like biting into a lemon, expecting sour, and getting sweet. Your reaction is, “wait, there must be something wrong with that lemon,” when in fact it’s not a lemon at all.
I suggest you take a second listen to the album. It’s actually kind of cool. Tons of layering, dissonances and quick changes. I think if it hadn’t leaked during the snowy doldrums we would have received it more welcomingly. Now, with the warm weather and sun shining, Congratulations sounds like something you’d want to jam out on the porch to in the company of your facial-haired hipster friends.
This review was going to be about how a half-hearted album deserves a half-hearted review. And I was going to ask you to review it in your comments. I no longer think the album was half-hearted – just risky.
Anyway, I’m still interested to know whether anyone still hates it even after a second chance. Or if someone absolutely loved it the first time through.