Focus was never something you could accuse MGMT’s Benjamin Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden of possessing in droves, though they have dispensed with some of the manic frenzy that was Congratulations on MGMT. There are no sleazy pop grooves a la ‘Electric Feel’, no chart friendly melodies like ‘Kids’, but the end result of three years of soul searching and streamlining is a brilliant and fun mess. Earlier this year, the band indicated to Rolling Stone that much of the music on the album emerged during free-flowing jam sessions between the duo rather than a traditional writing session. At times, it certainly feels as though the music is meandering down some unusual and paths; but on the whole it is much more confident and complete piece than the work that preceded it.
The album works best as a full body rather than dissected into individual parts. Granted, this means that we won’t be expecting the psych-pop duo to turn up on daytime radio again anytime soon, but it has yielded a complex and rewarding end product. Many of the songs run into the next without any pause, it is a trip in every sense of the word. ‘Alien Days’ is a barometer of what is to come. Synth heavy, it is the archetypal MGMT song. Psychedelic and senseless, it is a fun jaunt detailing a loss of control. Specifically, van Wyngarden says it is about a “parasitic alien in your head, controlling things.”
‘Cool Song No.2’ is even better. Textured and dense, it has a simple and catchy piano running throughout but allows itself to flow into unknown territory on more than one occasion. ‘I Love You To Death’, ‘Plenty of Girls in the Sea’ and the sun-drenched ‘A Good Sadness’ illustrate a band at their very best. Cutting loose and paying homage to some very obvious influences in Animal Collective and Mercury Rev, they serve as a reminder that the band is capable of writing some incredible hooks.
However, on more than one occasion, the density and layered formation of the songs serves as a muddled and confused reminder to just how wrong they can get it too. The band has deliberately moved on from their successful debut album and, while not necessarily a bad thing, it has drawn some interesting results, such as ‘Astro-Mancy’. From time to time, a fuzzy lack of focus leaves everything feeling so abstract that it can be quite tiresome to keep listening.
Not so much hit or miss, MGMT is a reassured and confident splurge. A kaleidoscopic experiment, it is much more melodic and accessible than Congratulations, though the pop perfection of their debut is still notable in its absence. It will probably be the death knell for many fans of their debut who were left cold by its follow up, but scores of new recruits will be happy to get lost in its wayward grooves.