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Fewer hooks, plenty of sprawl: Why I’m glad the boys of MGMT are back with a new album

For its third album, the numinous pop duo of Andrew VanWyngarden and Benjamin Goldwasser are deep for the trip, setting the controls for the heart of Bowie weirdville, percussion loops, paisley-soupy electronica and the atom heart of early Pink Floyd.

Danny Clinch/Sony Music

3 out of 4 stars


I certainly enjoy MGMT; it has been 41 months since I've had a new MGMT album in my house, and that's simply too long a gap. Foxygen has been discovered in the meantime, not that there isn't room for more young psychedelian friends.

Where have these ones been? Far out, that's where. For its third album, the numinous pop duo of Andrew VanWyngarden and Benjamin Goldwasser are deep for the trip, setting the controls for the heart of Bowie weirdville, percussion loops, paisley-soupy electronica and the atom heart of early Pink Floyd.

I'm not sure MGMT made it to its destination, but I'm sure glad the fuzzy-haired boys are back.

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"Must have skipped the ship and joined the team for a ride," VanWyngarden sings on Alien Days. "A couple hours to learn the controls and commandeer both my eyes." He may be referring to Dave Fridmann, the producer of MGMT's cracking debut album from 2007, Oracular Spectacular, but who was missing from the 2010 follow-up Congratulations.

Oracular Spectacular was radio-friendly and danceable and sounded progressive on video games. Made by well-educated fellows signed young to a major label, it featured winking hedonism: "Let's make some music, make some money, find some models for wives. … We've got the vision, now let's have some fun."

Though it got heady, MGMT turned down associations with such high liners as U2, Radiohead and Coldplay. They did agree to work with Jay-Z for a track on his album The Blueprint 3. "We talked to him on speaker phone, and he's like, 'I want you to do whatever you guys want,'" Goldwasser said later. "I think he was eating crackers or something."

The project fizzled. Jay-Z had told them to "do your MGMT thing," but didn't like the results. And in 2010, when MGMT released Congratulations, it was apparent that the MGMT thing was a new thing: less anthemic, less hooky, still melodic, but more of an airy, sprawling sonic adventure. Producer Fridmann missed that journey, and although he is now back on board, this self-titled third disc continues with beautiful textures and updated sixties experimentation at the expense of pop hooks.

Introspection is light, jangling and lyrically reflective: "What am I like inside," is the question. "There's a season when I will find out what I am,/ and there's a reason and I will someday find a path."

The hairier Your Life is a Lie is a hip confrontation that may incite existential crisis. Astro-Mancy is a mellow, pun-titled floater: "For all I know, we were sleeping, arranged like fate's vain infantry/ attacked in unconscious opposition, blind and happy for tomorrow." Tomorrow? John Lennon once waxed lysergic on Tomorrow Never Knows: "Turn off your mind and float downstream."

Mystery Disease is about life's malady. "It's no fun to face what you don't get to be" goes the spacious vocal, above a groovy beat. The album ends with the narcotic comedown of An Orphan of Fortune. MGMT, or anyone else, doesn't know what comes next or which way to turn: "It can't stop now, the signs keep changing on me." There is no plan, the trip continues. Welcome back MGMT, you must be going.

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The Week in Music

Top selling albums in Canada for the week ending Sept. 15: Down Under country star Keith Urban outsold Canadian R&B enigma the Weeknd to top the week's record chart. Urban's Fuse debuted at No. 1, ahead of also-arriving albums from the Weeknd (Kiss Land), Arctic Monkeys (AM) and Rise Against (Long Forgotten Songs). Avenged Sevenfold's Hail to the King rounds out the top five.

Top single: The nakedly ambitious Miley Cyrus rode her Wrecking Ball straight to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, knocking through Katy Perry's Roar with the help of the song's racy video. The suggestive vignette, which involves the improper appreciation of sledgehammers, drew 19.3 million global Vevo views in its first 24 hours following its Sept. 9 posting.

Also released this week: Devon Sproule and Mike O'Neill's Colours, the Darcys' Warring, Elvis Costello and the Roots' Wise Up Ghost, Islands' Ski Mask, Said the Whale's Hawaii, Jack Johnson's From Here to Now to You and the Sadies' Internal Sounds.

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More


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