By Erika Harwood, Daily Arts Writer
Published September 17, 2013
It would be far reaching to classify MGMT as conventional. After all, they did play what could potentially be the world’s largest cowbell on “Letterman” a few weeks ago. Yet there is a fine line between cutting-edge experimentation and an unsettling lack of focus, and the latter seems to preside over the group’s latest self-titled effort.
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“Alien Days” starts the album off with the intriguing distorted, childlike voice (perhaps actually the voice of a child), eventually joined by singer Andrew VanWyngarden who leads the song into a primarily acoustic sounding track that resonates more as an enthusiasm-lacking filler. VanWyngarden softly mutters the lyrics behind the halfhearted instrumentation.
Many of the songs tend to mislead with strong openings like on “Cool Song No. 2” and “Astro-Mancy,” which start off with distinct, individualized beats, yet once they get going falter into the same trap that plagues the rest of the album once they get going. After VanWyngarden begins his unenthusiastic lyricism, the tracks become dull and uninspired.
Songs blending together can be a useful trope for creating something more cohesive and even coherent, yet it works in the exact opposite way for MGMT. The second half of the album melts together to the point where the songs become completely indiscernible. Repetitive melodies and the group’s attempt at making bizarre new-age sounds become tiresome after about seven minutes, yet the album clocks out to a solid 44 minutes and 24 seconds. Though not entirely unlistenable, it grows stale and eventually makes its way into background noise.
The biggest problem with the album doesn’t necessarily fall onto a specific track but more of a broader sense of the direction MGMT has decided to follow. Their music now seems to be driven on their own logic that people expect them to be weird and psychedelic when what people really want is a genuinely good album that gives off the feeling of actual input. MGMT didn’t become MGMT because they made terrible, avant-garde bullshit, they became MGMT because they gave indie kids something a little different but still fell within the blurred lines of pop-rock.
No one expects another album full of “Electric Feel” or “Kids” or even “Congratulations.” They expect an album that exudes thought and substance, which can leave plenty of room for the bands own personal experimentation, but a compromise needs to be made between the two sides.
Fortunately, MGMT has songs like “Mystery Disease” and “Your Life Is A Lie” which provide a little hope to listeners that the band still has some fire in them. The heavy percussion on “Mystery Disease” leads into a contrasting sing-along style melody that stands out against the surrounding fizzling tracks. “Your Life Is A Lie” has the same repetition found throughout the album, but whether it’s the quirky lyrics or the very present cowbell, it holds its own as an identifiable track.
It could be possible that MGMT is an album ahead of its time that the mere masses just don’t understand, but as it stands now, it’s a feeble attempt at an innovative record.