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Album review: MGMT, "Congratulations"

mgmtMGMT's followup to "Oracle Spectacular" is plenty confusing. (Photo courtesy Columbia Records)

By Allison Stewart

"I hope I die before I get sold," sings MGMT on its solid, if befuddling, new disc, "Congratulations," though the band must realize it's much too late for that. The group moved more than a million copies of its 2007 major label debut, "Oracular Spectacular," which means that MGMT's audience has already spread beyond the usual indie rock confines of Fort Greene fauxhemians and "Gossip Girl" fans.

Lately, there have been indications that the Brooklyn band, made up primarily of college friends Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden, is entering its Difficult Rock Stars Period. It's complained about the burdens of fame, claimed to have intentionally written no singles for "Congratulations" and generally acted like an artfully disheveled version of Eddie Vedder in 1994.

(A fruitless search for hooks, after the jump.)

MGMT's uneasiness with fame and fortune may appear unseemly at a time when the unemployment rate is tracking around 10 percent, but that might be part of the point: "Congratulations" is meant not to entertain the masses, but to cull the herd. True to the band's word, it contains nothing that could be considered a single, the disc's few hooks are snuffed in their cradles and the easier moments, of which there aren't many, take up where the more difficult moments on "Oracular" left off, and get stranger from there.

"Congratulations" is a psych/'60s pop/electro/retro-disco freakout with frequently unrecognizable song structures. While its predecessor used wantonly catchy choruses and moments of pure pop beatitude to ground it, "Congratulations," with nothing to anchor it, constantly threatens to float off into the ether. Some of its tracks are inaccessible on purpose, or at least, this is the most charitable view to take of something like the "Mystery Science Theater 3000"-evoking "Song for Dan Treacy," or "Flash Delirium," MGMT's much-derided (by MGMT) first non-single. "Flash Delirium" is a headlong exercise in audience alienation, as its lyrics ("Stab your Facebook / Sell, sell, sell / Undercooked or overdone / Mass adulation not so funny") make plain.

Other tracks are addictive despite themselves, like the twisted Carpathian surf rock of "Brian Eno," a detailed tribute (at least it seems) to the legendary producer, or "I Found a Whistle," which is either an inconsequential tale of a guy who, you know, found a whistle, or a dark, "From Hell"-like tale of sorceresses and headless specters. With MGMT, it could be either, or both.

"Congratulations" is an endurance test that gets tougher as it goes, as if VanWyngarden and Wasser were continually asking, "Still listening? How about now?" The disc's toughest listen, "Siberian Breaks," begins as a blissed-out, long-lost Mamas and Papas track, pivots into an alternate universe Stones song at about the 2:10 mark and then shoots into space for the next nine minutes. Maddening and fascinating, the opposite of a crowd-pleaser, it's the strangest, toughest, best song here, one with the courage of its lack of convictions.

Recommended tracks: "Brian Eno," "Siberian Breaks"

By David Malitz  |  April 13, 2010; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  Album reviews  | Tags: MGMT  
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