MGMT (or Management as some weirdos call them) has been making a splash in the indie-pop world since the mid 2000’s with the popularity of tracks like Kids and Time to Pretend. Growing up I always resonated with the song Kids. I had made a friend in middle school purely out of both of us knowing it. Out of curiosity I did what I always did when I liked a song from the 2000’s and checked my dad’s iTunes library and hope that he bought the album, Oracular Spectacular. Luckily, he did. I tried downloading the album to my iPod Touch, but since I had an obsession with free app store arcade games I could only download half the album. The rest is history. I have loved the band for nearly a decade now and with the release of a few new singles recently, I thought I would revisit their discography. So here’s my definitive ranking of a pretty wacky album collection.
4. MGMT (Self-Titled)
While there’s nothing really offensively bad about MGMT’s third album, there’s just a lot missing. The charisma, the fun, there’s just no Kids or Brian Eno… The album starts off with a lot of promise. Alien Days and Cool Song No. 2 are among some of MGMT’s best. I loved the lo-fi sound that they were playing around with. Sadly, this was very much a one-trick-pony. The rest of the track-list collapses into each other. MGMT has always been very good at mixing up their sounds on their records in the past. You can tell when an album is amazing when you can hear the beginning of any song and say “oh I remember this one!” Maybe not out loud, but you get it. This can be said about nearly all of their other works. It also seems to be the only entry that lacks a theme. You can argue that it is an outcry to society and how people are sort of wasting life away, but it’s not continuous throughout (especially when another album does this better). With the record label failure and poor reception that Congratulations delivered, it wasn’t looking good for MGMT. This album was perceived as their worst to date. As stated previously, I don’t think it is bad at all it just lacks the personality and quirk that made me fall for the band in the first place.
Bump This: Alien Days, Cool Song No. 2, Introspection
Dump This: Plenty of Girls in the Sea
Regardless of how you feel about the album itself, you can’t deny… This album art kicks ass. I wasn’t really the fan of MGMT that I am now back when Congratulations dropped in 2010. I can honestly say though if I had been listening to Oracular Spectacular and patiently awaited for their next album to drop with all that anticipation, I would’ve been let down. Thankfully, I didn’t live through that and I really enjoy their sophomore outing. To connect back to the album cover, I’ve always believed that a record was better if the art matched the music. It’s just so wacky with a hint of psychedelic coloring that makes it memorable. Whenever I think of MGMT I see this album art. Congratulations ditches the sound that made them skyrocket to popularity and goes for a more psychedelic rock sound. Songs like Flash Delirium and I Found a Whistle are living proof that they changed their intentions. It’s no secret that the band’s art is heavily influenced by drugs. The album is basically one big acid trip for the duo as they make a show of how getting lost in your high can be a dangerous, yet mind expanding experience. Can’t argue there if you get results like this. The mother of all trips has to be Siberian Breaks which feels like three different songs in one and rocks! The nearly 13 minute track feels like a journey through space and alternative rock.
What I love about the band is also the reason this album doesn’t resonate as well as other albums of theirs and that is they’ll do whatever they want as long as they like it. Sure everything on here is great, but it’s kind of one big insult too. The people that really connected with songs like Kids, Time to Pretend, and Electric Feel were not welcomed on an album like this. In promotion for the record the lead vocalist, Andrew VanWyngarden, said they created the album with the intent that no one would be able to take a few key singles and just run away. He wanted to create something that requires a full album listen. Ben Goldwasser (other half of MGMT) also said hinted at this idea in an interview with Spinner discussing Brian Eno and the track named after him. He said that he admired how Eno would create the kind of music that nobody would’ve expected from him next “just because”.
Congratulations is a great record, but what prevents it from being ranked higher is the bigger ideas that the other albums present. I enjoy the album a lot it’s just not one I return to as much as the others.
Bump It: I Found a Whistle, Brian Eno, Siberian Breaks, Congratulations
Dump It: N/A
2. Oracular Spectacular
The one that would inspire fans and other artists alike. Oracular Spectacular is a once in a decade kind of record. I always get this video whenever I visit Genius’s website called “MGMT’s Impact on Hip-Hop” and every time I see it I think, yeah this album really created something new. Of course when I see the thumbnail of the video I always am reminded of the iconic collaboration between them, Ratatat, and Kid Cudi on ‘Pursuit of Happiness’. Their influence is especially visible on this track and a few others on Cudi’s debut record, Man on the Moon: The End of Day.
There is a reason that 12 year old me wanted anything and everything to do with this album when I first listened to it. The synths and vocals were the definition of infectious. Remember earlier when I said that the sign of a good album is being able to recall any track and say “oh I remember this one” out loud like a weirdo? This is what I was referring to because every track on Oracular Spectacular has something significant about it that makes the album’s journey all more interesting. Time to Pretend has that grimy, slow melodic keyboard opening, Electric Feel has that steel drum sound and drum beat that progresses into the first chorus, Of Moons, Birds, and Monsters has the subtle The Killers synth lurking in the background and the fun bird chirps, and of course Kids has that amazing breakdown at the end and the now iconic beat that everyone has fallen in love with.
The drumming on this album has to be mentioned. Radiohead’s, In Rainbows, has Philip Selway’s drumming on full display, more than other albums of theirs. This is MGMT’s In Rainbows. The drum work on tracks like Electric Feel and Weekend Wars are impossible to fall for. Try not tapping your feet to the beat of half of these songs. My favorite example of how outstanding a role the drums play on this record is in Kids. My god, what a show. While it plays a predominant role in the chorus and the bridge/breakdown in the middle, my favorite part has always been at the end. The chorus is repeated about three times until the last time when the drumming gets louder and forceful. Talk about goosebumps.
What makes this album so great is its sense of nostalgia and aspiration. Kids and Youth are the obvious poster children for this idea of not taking your youth for granted and what the threat of adapting to social norms and stereotypical lifestyles will do to you. This theme along with drug induced states of mind and growing up are clearly somethings that resonate not only through their debut album, but their entire discography to date.
I adore Oracular Spectacular in every way possible. It is a greatest hits collection. Every time I return to this album or hear Electric Feel on the radio I am reminded of the effect it had on me growing up. Kids and Time to Pretend are among my all time favorite songs. Anyone should check this album out. There’s a reason that MGMT didn’t like how awesome this was.
Bump It: Kids, Weekend Wars, Electric Feel, Of Moons, Birds, and Monsters, Time to Pretend, Youth
Dump It: Are you kidding? Why even look here?
- Little Dark Age
I never thought that Oracular Spectacular would be topped, especially after their self-titled didn’t do a lot for me. This changed when Little Dark Age dropped. I hadn’t heard any singles prior to the album drop so I went in completely blind. Upon the first five seconds of She Works Out Too Much I thought wow… this sounds a lot like Ariel Pink. At the time I had an obsession with his album Pom Pom and it definitely made me skeptical. That was until I found out that Ariel Pink was credited on the record. Not that it would’ve affected my overall view of the album, just seemed interesting at first. Anyhow! Let’s discuss why this is MGMT’s best record.
Everything I could have ever asked for is on Little Dark Age. The awesome synths are back, the passion is clearly visible, the topical aspects are very of the moment, the vocals are as great as they’ve ever been, and above all it is very weird. She Works Out too Much is a prime example of this. How weird is it to start off the record with a song about not working out and a women telling you “the only reason it never worked out was you never worked out enough”? Well, that’s what is great about this record. On its own, this track is amazing, maybe even their second best song next to Kids, but the song along with others discusses relationship issues and something I like to call lazy culture.
Lazy culture is a theme that isn’t brought up a lot in music. There’s this lazy component to society nowadays that makes us feel like life must come to us before we attempt to go forth on our own. In the case of She Works Out too Much, that is not willing to commit to the relationship because in his eyes he is looking for an issue with his significant other (working out) so that he does not have to put in the effort. These ideas are also explored in TSLAMP (Time Spent Looking at my Phone) and Days that Got Away.
To further this idea of lazy culture, depression is definitely a cause of all this. Most of Little Dark Age is spent analyzing how culture and politics have corrupted us into these sad, mopey beings that just go with life as is and are strangely okay with that. Little Dark Age (the song) discusses these themes as hiding behind things like music and humor to disguise happiness. This idea leads into other tracks like When You Die which has an awesome, playful guitar riff in the background at the beginning only to lead into topics of suicide and loneliness. Yikes.
As much as I don’t wanna write about politics, this album wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the 2016 election. Therefore we have to power through it. The track Hand it Over is about Trump and his condescending nature, almost them feel powerless. There that’s all I am going to say about it. However! What I think really seals the deal on this record is how ‘of the moment’ it was when it came out and how it still remains relevant to this day. The album is able to discuss politics, laziness, being distracted by technology (TSLAMP, Days that Got Away), and depression (Little Dark Age, When You Die, One Thing Left to Try, When You’re Small) and not make it the corniest thing you’ve ever heard. You can tell that MGMT thought these things through before putting it together. This didn’t just pop out of nowhere in 2016, this has been existent for a long while.
Little Dark Age also has some of the duo’s most emotional songs they’ve ever written. When You Die and One Thing Left to Try are very powerful moments. One verse in particular talks about the narrator looking into the fire, letting the darkness of night take over and have him realize he has one thing left to try to make him feel alive again. Committing suicide.
Little Dark Age is MGMT’s best album because it saved themselves as a band and brought the best parts of themselves to the table while creating new things we haven’t seen before. The instrumentals are great, the lyrics are truthful and emotional in the best way, and the relevance of the themes discussed will resonate for years, not just for me, but for someone who may need to hear the words that Andrew and Ben have to say.
Bump It: The whole thing
Dump It: Trump