Album Review: MGMT’s New Self-Titled Release

2007’s Oracular Spectacular landed MGMT in a strange place. The duo’s psych pop sounds, originally meant for dorm room jams, escalated into a deal with Columbia Records, appearances at major music festivals, and countless film, television, and advertising placements.  After touring behind the success of their debut, MGMT released Congratulations in 2010. The sophomore follow-up adopted three new members from their touring band, along with a sound less suited for radio and more on par with the brainy, hipster aesthetic associated with their Wesleyan University roots.

With the June announcement of a third release scheduled to arrive this fall, the contrast between Oracular Spectacular and Congratulations created a curious anticipation regarding the direction of MGMT’s future. Whether or not fans could expect material similar to early hits like “Kids” and “Time To Pretend” was unsure, but by self-titling the upcoming release, co-heads Benjamin Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden seemed to be making a statement: regardless of what they’d released in the past, this would be MGMT’s defining album.

Now that the MGMT has been streaming through Rdio for two weeks, available for purchase since last Tuesday, and featured alongside a full-length visual experience titled “Optimizer,” what’s most clear about the new material is the fact that MGMT are seriously talented musicians. The album’s first single “Alien Days” opens MGMT with a nod to the band’s pop influences, incorporating pitched-down vocals over a heavy, distorted drumbeat. MGMT’s most pop-centered track, however, comes in the form of a cover of Faine Jade’s “Introspection.” Goldwasser and VanWyngarden create a modern day interpretation of the 1968 psych-rock song with synth lines and fluctuating, panned-out vocals. While “Alien Days” and “Introspection” represent a portion of the album more suited for sing-alongs, much of MGMT is characterized by the pair’s experimental influences. Tracks like  “A Good Sadness” and “An Orphan of Fortune” find VanWyngarden’s vocals among cacophonous instrumentals.  Off kilter polyrhythms and dissonant melodies establish a sound far removed from those found on MGMT’s 2007 debut, but to Benjamin Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden, their music is more normal than ever.

Key tracks: “Cool Song No. 2,” “Introspection,” “Your Life Is A Lie”