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Music Review: MGMT – Congratulations

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I fell for MGMT’s “Kids” the first time I heard it and never tired of playing it over and over again on my iPod. It seemed completely accessible, remarkably fresh, and lent itself to repeated listening. When I heard “The Youth,” which also bore up well under repeated playing, I was completely hooked.

While all of the band’s first album,Oracular Spectacular was not quite as engaging, songs like “Kids,” “The Youth “and “Electric Feel”, the first album by Brooklyn based college students Andrew Van Wyngarden and Ben Goldwasser, who formed their band in 2002 at Wesleyan (a college known for its intellectual bent), was a success, selling over a million copies and sparking several interesting remixes. The most popular songs got a lot of radio play and set up and expectation for the second album which was released this month.

Congratulations is something of a mixed bag. While anyone listening can appreciate the incredible talent of Van Wyngarden and Goldwasser, the album has no immediate radio hit, although “I Found a Whistle”and “Congratulations” (one of my own personal favorites, the other being the twelve-minute-long cut “Siberian Breaks”) come closest.

Meant to be listened to all of a piece, like the new Broken Bells album, Congratulations' individual songs sometime works better than others; and in fact, listening to the entire album at once provokes different responses in me, depending on where I am at the time. At home on my sound system, Congratulations made me happy to dance around the house; but for some reason, playing on an excellent Bose sound system in my car, the CD caused more melancholia and unease than happiness. It seems that this particular album needs a bigger space than a confined car, save for the catchy, possible hit single “Congratulations.”

According to an interview with Goldwasser and Van Wyngarden, aired on XM radio recently, the duo “didn’t give ourselves much time” to write and record the new CD after a hectic world tour. The two say, however, that while they didn’t want to write a manifesto about touring and being in a band, in fact they end up with a lot of songs on that theme. They don’t term the album “cynical” but rather an exploration of what it meant to be so famous so fast. The two confessed that they originally planned to record the album live with no overdubs, but that didn’t happen. Basically, “we think this is a collection of songs that doesn’t suck,” they add. In fact, Congratulations pays homage to bands that influenced the duo as well as specific personalities like Dan Treacy and Brian Eno. In some senses, there are lots of inside jokes that many listeners (including this one) may not always get. But no matter.

Although one critic for England’s Telegraph seems to think that the band produced the album as a sort of “screw you” to casual listeners and a joke on both fans and radio playlists, I think the band’s weird and interesting 80s throwback electric, psychedelic synthesizer feel, and the often falsetto vocals feel fresh and new in today’s music landscape: fans’ comments to an early airing in NPR range from “a brilliant piece of musical art,” to “adventurous” to “damn fine” to “terrible,” with the yays far outweighing the nays.

Congratulations may not be an album for everyone, but it is definitely an album for both the musically adventurous and those who might wish be challenged a little. It is definitely an interesting follow-up for their legion of fans. The boys in this band definitely have talent. I am extremely curious to follow their career.

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