Monday, 23 September 2013

MGMT - MGMT

 

There's a line in Siberian Breaks where Andrew VanWyngarden professes: 'The older I get, the more I suspect there's a trick/But really there's no trip at all, that doesn't result in a fall'. The latter comment, as I'm sure you're aware, has great connotative relations to denouncing anything 'big' when at risk at failure or embarassment. But as far as I'm concerned, MGMT don't feel like the atypical big band. Sure their debut entry into music may have brought a heap of attention-grabbing via Kids (to name just one of the bunch) but the duo from Connecticut always seem to vie for even bigger things than one-hit stardom. Unfortunately, while their follow-up did attempt exploring vaster portions of instrumental variety and sonic structure, the problems arising in that record were down to the duo's passion overriding execution. While I'm risking shooting myself in the foot here in declaring the 12-minute multi-movement track was my favourite of the bunch, the success there was that the deliberate loosening of structure and connectivity, brought about a sumptuous return in psyched-out charm. It's that psychedelia charm that plays such an important role in MGMT's sound, especially - coming to the long-awaited, long-known eponymous third full-length - given the guys are adept to working with instruments both physical and electrical, to shoot for that place beyond the stars that isn't all clouds, dust and colour. 

I've got to give MGMT credit though for pulling me straight from my own Earthly abode of post-Modern architecture on opener Alien Days - its brief prelude of teasing corked synthesizers making me want to make the declaraion that one doesn't think we're in [insert locale name here] anymore. Fast-forward a minute-or-two and we're shifted to a steady flow of guitar strums and hazy percussion where VanWyngarden, surprisingly, isn't as upfront or colourful vocally as he has been. It's left to the track's evolving (or devolving perhaps) quirky, intergalactic bumbling that VanWyngarden shifts in and out of like he's lost his way and is striving to make sense of this newfound alien surrounding - the ancient, malfunctioning keyboard notes and star-gazing synths that preside somewhere amidst this confusion feeling less in importance in favor of the duo's keeping to rhythm and vocal tepidness. The drastic flung between musical stances seems much less surprising then given how sensually conflicting Cool Song No. 2 emmanates. Like an Aussie-led exploration of a baron planet, the tubular bellow of bass and crisp percussion tones certainly feel aboriginal, but not necessarily tribal or (least not in as culturally engrossing a way as what The Knife did so well in on their latest record). Beyond this, it's comforting (in some dysfunctioned, distorted perspective) to find VanWyngarden's lyrics are as paradoxically profound ('What you find shocking, they find amusing/Something else to soften a sadistic urge') as they are peculiar ('If you think that you're free, watching as it goes by/Focus on the quiet oars').

So the question I have to ask then, is why on Mystery Disease - where the pressing and imfectuous drum groove and swirling haze of synthesizers are most leading - is there a sudden decrease in ground for VanWyngarden to express himself? It may be down to the track's fairly frown-imposed production, but for a piece that up until now is MGMT's first real attempt at capturing the listener upon a slick groove and vibe, the vocals are treated with quite the unfai amount of hostility. I end up landing my focus so squarely on the drums and even the whirling synth hooks that glide in-and-out of the piece, that the lyrics lose most (if not all) their syllablical and tonal emphasis. Musically I find the duo's immersiveness and imagining these sounds closed off - emoting a kind of garrisoned surrounding - to work a treat in some respects. But when it comes to vocal aspects of the music - and when taking the actual cohesieness of the sounds themseleves into account - the subject matter is easily forgettable and devoid of attraction. There's a bit more relation and reason as to VanWyngarden's timid presence on Introspection, but that's only down to the less robust and forward-moving drum patterns. Away from the conflict of vocal usage, the way the surfing guitar lines appear to preside in the backdrop yet still persist to be heard is a nice effect; the wobbly, liquid bass especially fits well into the track's slow-building momentum as it plunges into the last of its four minutes of length.

Your Life Is A Lie builds then on that successive flow, and thus attempts to offer what feels as close to MGMT's psychadelic pop-tuned affection with garage aesthetics without ever touching back on either home base. VanWyngarden's lyrics aren't exactly given top priority amidst the flakey, noisy cymbal hits and strummed guitar descents. But despite this, the duo's remaining up-in-space antics add a kind o intensity (even if slightly less controlled or mannered) that gives what is a two-minute brief passage, a greater impact and manner of control in MGMT's quite ecentric narrative. So while the set-piece to each of these tracks may still continue to throw its listener between offerings rather than ease them gently onto proceeding composites, A Good Sadness is the undoubted success, on the duo's eponymous release, in flinging psychadelic electro into the vacuum of space - the listener caught among that spectral smog of sorts. It's a perfect surmize to think of space and of such futuristic endeavour, especially with the way the track slowly brings itself to reveal the quite tense spectacle before us with its jittery, almost out-of-sync string sounds and relay - like a horizon glare slowly making its way across a planetary surface. Beyond that, like you're among the few experiencing zero gravity in a shuttle, the song builds itself upon a quite metitative position, but in a way that doesn't exactly overstate the lack of gravituous or  weighted force by any exerting element. VanWyngarden's lyrics again seem to testify to that unruly darter amid definition, 'But it's hard to catch it and let it go/Find excuses to burn right through the grief/And to melt, oh my poor memories'. And with aid from the equally buyoant synth leads and flashing electronics that act almost like alerts, - despite the music's inescapale tensity and momentum - the atmosphere here remains shrouded by this weightless mystery and means to reflect without excessive thought.

The awe seems to appear a lot more defined in the following track Astro-Mancy which acts like it captures all the potential tension and concern from the previous track, and magnifies production seem to translate that probability of the unknown, and so too - through the venturous pace and lacing of sharp synth tones and keybaords - a sense of curiosity and intention still present. It's the kind of sonic electro track that plays almost like the counteract to Daft Punk's Contact: where instead of marvelling at a strange sight, only to be plunged into crescendo-ridden awe, things begin, progress and end on the same simmerly curious yet cautionary fashion. While it makes for not as daring or as expansive a delivery late-on, the tension (albeit a minimal one) and its very presence certainly make MGMT's broadening-out a fascinating lead to follow. But while I the listener might be valliantly obliged to follow the duo's path as, noted, a listener/a spectator/a member of this creation's audience, there comes numerous times where I'm not convinced MGMT really know where it is their aiming to lead their merry followers. It's the lack of concrete direction (and as mentioned previous, a surprising lack of productive transgression and movement between pieces) that risks losing what contextual setting MGMT create in this spacious, quirky enclosure looking ot at the wider sphere of space.

You come to a track like Plenty of Girls In The Sea, and while it may share a similar, sentimental bliss or brief survey of narrative as Congratulations may have ended its path with, here the duo seem to wade over their assemble with personal understanding, but no attempt to triangulate that to their listener. There's understanding in the track's fairly daft, kiddish march of drums and synth callings, but while the instrumental connection may reside, there's little reason behind how this plays into the record's overall lapse of connectivity. What's more is that the way the track seems to halt and proceed to start again at climatic moments, comes across confusing and thus tarnishes what is a cheery but promising experimentation. An Orphan Of Fortune moreso delves into better use of experimentation, as well as combining of MGMT's daunting space ventures with their past psychadelic flair. While the track dizzies its way about in its moody bass lines, squawking electronics and on-time drum beats - despite how closed-off and tightly packed in VanWyngarden's voice comes across as - MGMT expand well upon their sonic measurements and the risk-reward emotions that lay in their narrative. Because of this, the deliberate compression and imprisoning of their instrumentation soon break off and the duo, thankfully, offer the space to expand upon - the track lifting itself through its percussion and the swirl of effects that begin to thin, but don't entirely fade from presence.

This isn't a case then of there being a stronger bulk of tracks or there being any real underlining positive over negative attribute to MGMT's third outing. What their self-titled record offers is the duo venturing out from the electro-pop that, perhaps from their perspective, risked getting them too clogged by their own surprise success and charm, that it undermined any means of artistic development. Unfortunately, where MGMT have succeeded in getting past the eventual hurdle of branching out from less commercial sounds in electronics, the desire to strict their space in parts not only gives the record a very clustrophobic and mistranslated vibe, but from our perspective of running through the album start to finish - allowing us to be taken through MGMT's planetary voyage - the narrative and the messaging that the duo place in their musical context lack major signs of structure. There are some rewarding signs that the duo have come to this perplexing endeavour of reaching for the stars and making do with what they already know to define their discovery. With that, the album is not at a complete loss in either its direction or its intention. Should this be the way MGMT want to progress on a permanent basis - regardless of how the older (more pop-favored) fans might perceive this - an even greater promise for univeral success, is clearly present.
~Jordan

6.4

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