Finding an unlikely middle point between Suicide's hostile, proto-electro punk art noise and the sardonic, pop-friendly sound of the Flaming Lips, MGMT started as electroclash musical terrorists but quickly grew into an eclectic, brainy pop group with psychedelic overtones. MGMT first formed in 2002, during Ben Goldwasser and Andrew Van Wyngarden's freshman year as art students at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. The band was initially known as the Management, and its shows consisted mostly of backing tapes, synthesizers, and pre-recorded vocals playing as Goldwasser and Van Wyngarden engaged the audience in a manner somewhere between performance art and good old-fashioned punk hostility. By their senior year, they had toned down considerably on-stage, and began augmenting their live sound with backing musicians. After graduating, MGMT released an electro-rock EP, 2005's Time to Pretend, on the tiny indie label Cantora Records. For their full-length debut, the duo partnered with producer Dave Fridmann and recorded Oracular Spectacular, a far more musically expansive album that was released digitally in late 2007. A traditional CD release followed in January 2008, and Oracular Spectacular ultimately enjoyed both critical approval and commercial success, with the album selling over 500,000 copies in the U.S. and going platinum in Australia, the U.K., and Ireland. The album's third single, "Kids," was a hit, eventually being nominated for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals at the 52 Annual Grammy Awards. In 2009, MGMT began working with producer Sonic Boom, formerly of Spacemen 3 and Spectrum, on their second album, Congratulations. Released in 2010, the record found them growing more ambitious and quirkily psychedelic, with a song dedicated to two of their heroes: Dan Treacy of Television Personalities and Brian Eno. The album debuted at number two on the U.S. Billboard chart and the band toured much of the year, while also appearing on TV and playing many festivals. The following year, the bandmembers dug deep into their record collections to curate an installment of the Late Night Tales mixtape series and began work on their third album with Dave Fridmann. The self-titled effort was something of a return to the expansive sound of their debut, but with the same amount of weirdness that permeated Congratulations. The record received mixed reviews, but still broke the Top 20 of the Billboard album chart. After the band finished touring behind the album, they decided to take a break from making music together. After roughly a year of inaction, Goldwasser and Van Wyngarden began trading song ideas back and forth via computer, then decided to write and work on arrangements together. They brought Fridmann back and added producer Patrick Wimberly of Chairlift to the team. Inspired by pop music of the '80s and heavy on synths, Little Dark Age is MGMT's most accessible since their debut, despite featuring cameos from dedicated weirdos Ariel Pink and Connan Mockasin. Though the record was finished and turned in to their label Columbia in April of 2017, it wasn't released until February of 2018. The album debuted at number 35 on the Billboard 200 and hit number two on the Top Rock Albums chart.
© Stewart Mason & Andrew Leahey /TiVo
© Stewart Mason & Andrew Leahey /TiVo
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Pop/Rock - Released December 14, 2007 | Red Ink - Columbia
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When MGMT were asked by their record label for a list of their dream producers, with low expectations they sarcastically replied: Prince, Nigel Godrich, Barack Obama, and "not Sheryl Crow." Columbia returned with Dave Fridmann, the producer extraordinaire best known for his work with Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev. In typical Fridmann fashion, Oracular Spectacular is a glamorous mega-production through and through. Drums are massively distorted and shimmering keyboards are articulately layered as he takes the reins, leading the duo through his daisy chain of onboard compressors, delay units, and whatever other mysterious studio gizmos and gadgets he uses to get his trademark sound. Expectedly, the 14-karat polish enhances MGMT's blend of psychedelic and indie-electro to a shiny sonic gleam, resulting in some of the catchiest pop songs to come from N.Y.C. since the turn of the millennium. The tunes sound classic and new all at once, paying homage to Bowie, the Kinks, and the Stones, while updating traditional progressions with flashes of Royal Trux, Ween, and LCD Soundsystem. It's a wonderful mess of musical ideas, ranging from the dancy disco thump and Bee Gees falsetto of "Electric Feel" to the gritty acoustic-based "Pieces of What," to the grimy synth groove on the anthemic "Time to Pretend." With tongues planted firmly in cheeks, sardonic wit is as abundant as Andrew Van Wyngarden and Ben Goldwasser spoof the stereotypical rock & roll lifestyle with lines like "Lets make some music, make some money, find some models for wives/I'll go to Paris take some heroin and fuck with the stars." Despite the ever-present irony, the songs never feel insincere and the record is inherently strong throughout, making it a solid start to their career. © Jason Lymangrover /TiVo
Alternative & Indie - Released February 9, 2018 | Columbia
Five fallow years. We had to wait until 2016 for MGMT to hit the studio, under the sun of the US West Coast. Little Dark Age marks the glorious return of Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser, heroes of the soundtrack to the 2000s. After an eponymous album which was less impressive than Oracular Spectacular (2007) and Congratulations (2010), this fourth work takes off on a synth-pop tangent. They needed to evolve. All alone, the Brooklyn team started to feel their isolation. On production, we find Dave Fridmann, ex-Mercury Rev, and Chairlift guitarist, Patrick Wimberly, who manages a double triumph. Channelling their genius and opening it out to collaborations: Connan Mockasin, who can be found in the album's title clip, and the main synth freak, Ariel Pink. In a more sombre vein which binds form to content, MGMT draws out nuances in the form of homages to the Cure, Gothic and even pop flavours. If the acid sheen of their youthful works had the character of a bad trip (You die, And words won’t do anything, It’s permanently night), the psychedelic effervescence dries up to give way to a baroque pop sound, the quilted synths of Hand it Over showing that the priority here is levity. The heritage of Robert Smith has replaced the hippy bandanas, without quite filling Andrew's head with post-punk fatalism. On the contrary. Struck by occasional inspirations (TSLAMP, She Works Out Too Much), MGMT are playing on the halcyon days of the Eighties, when new wave unfurled across Europe (the ambiguous Me & Michael). This recipe brings forth Little Dark Age and When You Die, marked by the dark synths and vivid melodies that Ariel writes along with the lyrics. An album like a rough-hewn gem. Frustrating, delightful, but with the allure of a thing incomplete. © CS/Qobuz
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