For the record: MGMT’s influence holds strong

Music columnist Meghan LeVota on the band’s new album

By Meghan LeVota | Oct. 1, 2013

Tags: Music

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Ah, college. There is nothing more inspirational than being surrounded by intelligent, creative and diverse young minds.

To many, it’s a culture shock. We’re all desperate to create and change in ways that have never been done before. And with that, it isn’t a surprise that many innovations, social movements and projects get their start on college campuses. (I mean, come on — without colleges, we wouldn’t even have Facebook.)

Andrew Vanwyngarden and Ben Goldwasser met in 2002, during their freshman year of college, at a Wesleyan University dormitory. (Fun side fact: VanWyngarden was born in Columbia. Who knew?).

The duo had humble beginnings, starting with casual jamming and experimenting with keyboard and guitar riffs. They would perform for their friends in the dorm, much like my glory days, performing with friends at the College Avenue/Hatch/Schurz homecoming barbecue… (Maybe I’ll become famous someday?)

Against corporate culture, VanWyngarden and Goldwasser produced several demos under the name The Management, later shortened that to MGMT. After receiving critical acclaim for their freshman album, Oracular Spectacular, in 2007, MGMT became known as an innovator in the psychedelic pop/rock genre. Popular hits such as “Time to Pretend,” “Electric Feel” and “Kids” are still relevant, and serve as inspiration to many successful indie rock bands that are newer to the game.

Six years later and MGMT is still truckin’. The band recently released its newest, self-titled album, MGMT. The boys are growing up, and this eponymous album symbolizes a new realization of their musical vision.

The first track on the album, “Alien Days,” was also the band’s first single. The song has a playful feel, as it features a child singing in the beginning. During the song’s interlude, synths mimic the sound of a children’s toy piano. The song erupts with unique melodic lines and childish lyrics, while still featuring MGMT’s familiar synth and guitar distortion, pleasing long-term fans.

“Cool Song No. 2” is cool alright, with profound lyrics that express a fascination with the unknown. Though the unfamiliar is often frustrating to most, MGMT paints it to be beautiful and calm: “Whenever I drift by the unknown / Feign like I notice a fundamental tone / The fine petals open and close, offended / Poor explanation and nothing shown.”

Underlying drums and deep bass drive the song forward, with modal, Arabian-inspired keyboard melodies tastefully thrown in. Though creativity is awesome, I admit that this track featured some sound effects that make me think MGMT was just like, “Hey, what does this button do?”

Listening to my favorite track, “Introspection,” with headphones on is unreal. VanWyngarden’s vocals seem to be circling the mind, due to a back-and-forth audio effect. Compared to “Cool Song No. 2,” this track features lyrics that, on the surface, would seemingly come from a lost and confused person. Instead, there is a sense of peace to the music, and simplicity in the message: “Introspection, what am I really like inside? / Introspection, why have all the prophets lied?”

It amazes me how much truth can be exuded from one little song. As an extrovert, it may have taken me longer than most to discover the beauty of introspection that this track so accurately depicts. But self discovery is within you, as MGMT’s calm vocals assure: “There’s a reason, and I will someday find a plan.”

Shortly after MGMT’s repetitive, cookie-cutter single, “Your Life Is a Lie,” the album slows down with experimental, easy listening tracks such as “I Love You Too, Death.” The band picks up its pace once again with the catchy “Plenty of Girls In the Sea,” although this song is arguably only a standout due to its place in the album. Though it may be cutely titled and implement pop song structure, it falls short in comparison to the few masterpieces found at the album’s beginning.

Yes, MGMT features the same two talented dudes we fell in love with in 2007. Yet in 2013, the band has entered a new music culture, forced to compete with copycats of themselves. With so many up-and-coming bands that emulate this style, will MGMT remain in power?

They’ve raised a high bar for themselves. Though they might not have completely aced it with this time around, MGMT proved that they have a defined prominence with this strong album.

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