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Album review: ‘Congratulations’

April 29th, 2010

In 2008, Wesleyan University college students Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden hit it big. Their recently formed indie rock band MGMT released their first major label studio album, “Oracular Spectacular,” to be a huge success. The album sold over a million copies worldwide and was certified Gold in the U.S. 

 Their sound was described by critics as “a college-dorm experiment gone horribly right.”

The college-dorm duo is back with their sophomore effort “Congratulations.” 

VanWyngarden said that the album is heavily influenced by their massive rise in popularity. 

“It’s us trying to deal with all the craziness that’s been going on since our last album took off. Sometimes it just doesn’t feel natural.”

If there’s one word to describe this album, it’s unnatural.

Those hoping for “Oracular Spectacular” part two will be disappointed. There’s nothing on the album that sounds remotely like the first album’s gems “Kids” and “Time to Pretend.” MGMT has abandoned their techno-poppy sound and become an all- out psychedelic rock band.

The album opens with the undeniably catchy “It’s Working.” The song sounds like the Beach Boys on acid. VanWyngarden’s laid back voice combines with surf tune guitar riffs to create one of the highlights of the album.

Another bright spot on the album is “Song for Dan Treacy.” 

The song sounds like it’s straight out of the 60s. Its rock’n’roll beat, “doo-wop” backup vocals and electric organ makes it a real treat to listen to.

MGMT released “Flash Delirium” as the album’s only single on March 24, 2010. 

It’s a great choice for a single, as it successfully brings all the different elements of the album together for one four-minute song. It features flutes and horns, and a whole lot of synth. Retro influences are all over the place in this song. 

Elvis Presley and “Sergeant Pepper” era Beatles are the most prominent.  Although it’s great in the context of the album, it’s pretty bizarre by itself, so don’t expect to hear it on the radio.

Goldwasser and VanWyngarden clearly have fun with the lyrics. Most of the time they make little sense and are hard to read into. 

“I Found a Whistle” is a sweet little love song about a girl who will stay with you no matter what you’ve done. “Yeah I found a whistle that works every time, that’s when the trail escapes to nowhere, and the flood erases the crime,” said the lyrics.  

“Brian Eno” is a superb and hilarious tribute to English ambient music legend Brian Eno. “He taught me many things, the wisdom of bleak stratagems, the prophet of a sapphire soul, presented through creative freedoms…We’re always one step behind him, he’s Brian Eno, Brian Eno.” 

From its jingle-like chorus to VanWyngarden’s fake English accent, the song is pure fun.

The album’s best song though, is the epic twelve-minute “Siberian Breaks.”  

It is simply stellar. VanWyngarden describes the song, “It’s kind of like eight different songs strung together into one, and the general theme is about surfing in the Arctic Circle by Russia.” 

Each part of the song is completely different from the last, and the transitions are constant and without warning. Yet, the transitions sound natural, and really pull the song together. 

Starting out with gentle harmonies, then transforming into a subtle stomping anthem, and about 10 minutes and five songs later the song completely changes and ends with a cosmic synth-filled finale.

The album isn’t perfect though. The songs “Someone’s Missing”  and the instrumental “Lady Dada’s Nightmare” seem more like B-sides than actual tracks. 

With only nine tracks on the album, one would expect that there are no “filler” songs on the album. Unfortunately, that’s what these songs come across as.

Overall, this is an album that should be heard as a whole. Don’t cheat yourself by just buying the three most popular songs on iTunes. 

MGMT has had its taste of being techno pop stars, and have decided instead to be a couple of peculiar weirdos. 

“Congratulations” is less accessible than previous efforts, but if this kind of music is your thing, then this is definitely a psychedelic trip worth taking. MGMT has avoided a sophomore slump and created something really different.

Congratulations, guys.