Thursday, April 8, 2010

Review: Congratulations by MGMT

Release Date: April 13, 2010

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few years, you have undoubtedly stumbled across the electro-pop perfection of MGMT’s three monster singles from 2007’s Oracular Spectacular. Simply one of these singles would have thrust the Brooklyn duo to some level of stardom, but three consecutive smashes pushed them into an unidentifiable realm of untouchable hipster-dom. Needless to say, the pressure was on to exceed expectations on the follow-up to their major-label debut. Instead of succumbing to the temptation of making another serviceable, marketable single รก la “Kids” or “Time To Pretend”, the band decided to do the complete opposite: Make an album that shuns the popular conception of their sound and an album completely devoid of an individual standout track.

The months leading up to the release of Congratulations suggested that, perhaps, MGMT had lost it. The released track list included a twelve-minute-long song and titles such as “Brian Eno” and “Lady Dada’s Nightmare”, and the bizarrely vivid artwork of an approximately two-and-a-half headed creature surfing raised eyebrows (or elicited chuckles). There was a borderline sense of “Maybe they’re messing with us.” Despite throwing its listeners an auditory changeup, Congratulations is an interesting listen from beginning to end.

In general, the album seethes undeniable psychedelic rock vibes, as if this was a newly discovered record from the ‘60s. Those familiar only with the band’s major singles may not even realize this is MGMT at all, but it is somewhat reminiscent of the second half of Oracular Spectacular. Opener “It’s Working” is a nice feeler for the rest of the album, providing a bouncy bass, harmonious harpsichord and organic fluctuation of mood with the vocals to create a slightly trippy, psychedelic classic rock gem in 2010. The duo also channel eccentric Georgia quintet Of Montreal on “Flash Delirium”, which also serves as the closest thing to a single on the album, and easily the most fun individual track. It is a sprawling, schizophrenic song that has plenty of different influences, all culminating in the rapid, raucous spiral of a finish.

The aforementioned twelve-minute epic “Siberian Breaks” is a hit-or-miss attempt to, more or less, jam in as many influences as possible. While it is admirable and fun to see where it goes next, it is a bit too sprawling for its own good and sometimes wanders a bit too far from cohesion. However, the sheer length and endurance of the song still make it undeniably epic.

Despite being firmly implanted in the depths of left field, Congratulations seems like an album devoid of facetiousness. Instead, it comes off more honest and real than anything, as if it is a band trying to set aside its previous accomplishments and start anew as the band that they truly are. The mostly cryptic lyrics make it difficult to discern much in the way of interpretation, but overall it comes off more enthusiastic and ambitious than sarcastic. Congratulations may not be what many expected from MGMT’s sophomore effort, but it definitely deserves attention as a multifaceted, psychedelic and mostly cohesive album that can reward the listener upon repeated listens once the initial shock factor subsides. Hear for yourself at

Rating: 3.5/5

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"The Wild Hunt" - The Tallest Man On Earth

"The Wild Hunt," by The Tallest Man On Earth is as impressive as their more renowned songs from the past, including 2008's "The Gardener." In essence, it's glory lies in the ironic and wonderful nature of pained singing, happy guitar, and slight syncopation. It's music like this that the masses don't understand, yet those who do understand it like it that much more.
The Tallest Man On Earth is a very folksy one-man band headed by Swedish Kristian Matsson. He is almost a male version of Joana Newsom in uniqueness. Without a doubt, Simon Cowell would tear his (and probably Newsom's) singing apart in some demeaning way if given the chance. Have no fear mainstream/nonconformists, because his CD shows that it is still possible to transcend trivial critique.
Though "The Wild Hunt" is a portrait painted with crackly emotional singing, there are plenty of happy songs. By no means would this be on the levels of Brand New, Conor Oberst, or Elliot Smith depressing music. Its characterized by smooth, melodic, and skillful guitar playing. It harmonizes enough to make you happy, but not so much as to get old. It's great for working, too, because it's not too grating to distract or discomfort you, yet its noticeable enough to distract you from monotony, or (in my case at least) excessive math.
While the whole CD is promising, make sure you at least listen to the last half unless you really hate it. It is much less cacophonous and probably a lot easier to digest. If you don't even want to listen to the last half, for the love of God, listen to "You're Going Back." Its one of--if not the most--depressing songs on the CD, but its borderline brilliant.