Is the MGMT heard on their self-titled album really the same band that released Oracular Spectacular six years ago? Obviously, yes, in terms of name and band members. But regarding sound, it’s harder to say. Their debut LP was mainly an exercise in standard psych pop with progressive rock embellishments, but the follow-up Congratulations was a more self-conscious effort to defy danceability and avoid being pigeonholed as Urban Outfitters-store playlist fodder. With MGMT, however, they’ve smoothed their transition into pure neo-psychedelica, finding themselves in an increasingly distinct niche that feels less belabored and more natural than their previous release.
Amog the most noticeable and welcome features of this album is track length. Here, songs clock in around four or five minutes without coming close to their clumsily sprawling wannabe-epics such as “Metanoia” (the 14-minute 2008 single). These songs had moments of greatness, but they were full of disjointed ideas. On the contrary, tracks on MGMT flow with the sort of conviction that shows they actually had a song arranged when they pressed “record.”
Take the opener, “Alien Days.” Labyrinthine chord progressions prevent the song from feeling repetitive while bouncy bass lines and dreamy vocals keep it recognizable enough to lose anyone along the way. The chirping synths of “A Good Sadness” come across like an aural head rush. Later, the chaos-soaked production of “Plenty of Girls in the Sea” is grounded by the song’s surprisingly whistle-worthy catchiness.
Their evolution has been heavy-handed but worthwhile. As such, the best advice to give to former fans unhappy with their changes since “Kids” would be: Go listen to “Kids.” It’s not going anywhere. While MGMT’s original intent may have been to “shoot some heroin and fuck with the stars,” it seems they got sidetracked dropping acid with the Flaming Lips, which suits them better, anyway.