x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

The music is out there

MGMT isn't coming to a karaoke night near you any time soon.

Ben Goldwasser, left, and Andrew VanWyngarden of the American band MGMT. Eric Thayer / Reuters
Ben Goldwasser, left, and Andrew VanWyngarden of the American band MGMT. Eric Thayer / Reuters




Talking to Rolling Stone earlier this year about the making of their third album, the duo who formed MGMT at Wesleyan University, Connecticut, made a comment that might have given their record company – and fans of their hooky 2008 single Time to Pretend – pause for thought.

“We’re not trying to make music that everyone understands the first time they hear it,” said Ben Goldwasser of his and Andrew VanWyngarden’s latest psychedelic voyage. He wasn’t joking.

Like Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock or professed influence Aphex Twin’s 1995 EP Donkey Rhubarb, MGMT isn’t coming to a karaoke night near you any time soon. Its synth-heavy sonics are decidedly, but not unpleasantly, disorientating, and the title of the kooky, children’s voice-led opener Alien Days – imagine Pinocchio confessing his love of psychedelia to Jiminy Cricket – immediately signals a record aiming to be different.

Produced once again by their trusted aid David Fridmann, the work packs some of the grand existential oddness of other Fridmann-affiliated acts such as Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips. MGMT is much closer to the out-there experimentation of the latter band’s The Terror than it is to the Rev’s more traditionally structured Deserter’s Songs. It also shuns typical verse- chorus structures and works hard to bring you sounds you haven’t heard before: queasy little synth solos, much meddled-with samples, things that go bump in the night.

Even the record’s most accessible song, the recent single Your Life Is a Lie, is a manic, lurching affair that slowly endears itself to you via a machine-like hammering out of its titular hook. It’s telling, too, that the album’s lone cover-version is Introspection, an obscure 1968 song by Faine Jade from Long Island, New York, a man sometimes seen as America’s answer to Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett. This is decidedly a record for those in the know.

Elsewhere, things only get more outré. I Love You to Death begins with a soundscape of synth-pulses, finger-cymbals, laughter and some kind of exotic wind instrument, but before long VanWyngarden is musing: “Every stranger is a ghost.”

The otherness of MGMT’s nearest musical relatives – The Flaming Lips – works partly because it’s buoyed by their frontman Wayne Coyne’s great charisma, but Goldwasser and VanWyngarden don’t have quite the same dynamism, or half as much to say. You have to admire the stubborn ambition of their third album, but some may find it an insular, alienating ride.


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