There’s something passive about MGMT. They appear to make music in the spirit of their odd behavior and never come close to extorting themselves. Their material usually includes something amusing or sexy, and the causal subjects show versatility. Their self-titled third studio album, MGMT, follows suit. No material is too deep or controversial, just exploited and fun.
However, that is the only positive thing about the album. This ten-track wonder takes no structure and is just a form of free art. The duo appeals to the light side of the melody with catchy, electric sounds. They incorporate unusual music makers, like shakers and wind chimes, to create ambiance. They’re getting more creative with crafting their sound, but there’s something about such experimental freedom that actually disconnects.
“Alien Days”, the first track, is probably one of the only songs on the album to have a set format. It starts off with youths singing an introduction, which is an interesting opening. It’s melodic in the way it utilizes a transition from distorted violin to choir to guitar. Within a minute the song’s taken different identities. The lyrics are vague but story-like, with lines like, “Must’ve skipped the ship and joined the team/for a ride/a couple hours to learn the controls/and commandeer both my eyes/hey!” It describes a space invasion, but it appears as though this entire thing is a false vision or dream. It’s just weird, but it follows in that typical psychedelic model MGMT likes to contort.
The only other song with any relatable capabilities is “Plenty of Girls in the Sea”. The song title is clever enough, but the song also seems to have a structure. The melody reminds me of a reformed ’80s pop song, with a purposed beat and rustic guitar. It follows suit with little laser sounds and comes to the climax with twisted drums. The lyrics include simplicity – “There’s plenty of girls in the sea/and plenty of seeds in a lemon” – but dive slightly deeper into a reaction spirit with, “The trick is trying to stay free/when it’s never that great to begin with.” It’s such a turnaround.
However, the oddities that usually make their demeanor harm the rest of the album. “An Orphan of Fortune” includes an introduction that sounds like a soundboard exploded. It just includes samples of different sounds to create this unnecessary environment. The song follows into the same, and the added instruments don’t save it. I want to like “I love You Too, Death”, but the song just takes any obscure instrument and displays its basic sound for a second. There’s no flow, it’s a cluster fuck of collision noise. “Cool Song No.2” just sounds like a distorted bass and vibration. It’s hard to tell whether they meant to make so many mistakes.
The duo usually carries their lyrics, but the meanings are consistently buried in this album. I applaud the use of a vigor in their vocabulary, but statements like, “And my plastic mind/so chewed and shrieking all the time/feels it whirling by/morning, afternoon then night/and I can’t get down” from “An Orphan of Fortune” need to be analyzed before they’re completely understood. The album’s attack on normalcy is great, but the entire collection is lost in confusion.
MGMT’s disuse of aggression makes a sound message, but the lack of care in the direction of their art makes the loss of some of that message hard to accept. Their free form is appealing, but could there ever be too much? For MGMT, that freedom just needs to be reigned in and perfected.