Thursday, December 16, 2010

Spread My Arms and Soak Up "Congratulations"

by Brendan Cavanagh

Instead of repetitively listing off my favorite albums of the year, which happen to be many of the same albums that my friends have chosen, I'll just dedicate this blog post to my favorite album of 2010: MGMT's Congratulations. Two days after the album's April 13th release I wrote an article covering my impression of it, which was to be submitted to Sacred Heart-Griffin's Campus Crier (proofread by Classic Brian's very own Robert Langellier), but that never worked out. Funnily enough, what I wrote eight months ago is pretty much exactly how I feel today about Congratulations. I'll give you a look at how this brief article appeared when I wrote it- no changes made. I admit, there are a couple corny lines, but I think I get my point across anyway:

"Dear Mssrs. VanWynGarden and Goldwasser (MGMT),

If your plan was to bemuse fans and leave critics scratching their heads, It’s Working. Everyone thought your sophomore LP Congratulations would follow the same heavily-synthesized formula as your debut, Oracular Spectacular, but in a matter of two years, you’ve gone from creating insanely catchy, neo-psychedelic pop pieces like the widely appreciated single, “Kids”, to composing esoteric, lyrical homages to musically experimental English veterans, as found in your Song For Dan Treacy.

A lot of critics think Someone’s Missing, that some experienced hands are required to aid you guys in meeting up to everyone’s demands for more satirical, danceable tunes about spending money and doing drugs with attractive women, similar to the ones found on your debut. But I disagree; I have mad respect for you for refusing to fold under the music world’s expectations. I like that Congratulations is distinctly different from Oracular Spectacular in that it delves further into the macabre, trippy sounds of the oft-overlooked tracks of the former, yet still leaves the listener’s mind reeling with bursts of Flash Delirium. I like how the album resonates even when I’m not listening to it- for instance, the other day, I Found A Whistle and recalled the emotional rawness in your echoing vocals on the album’s slower tracks. Like that whistle, several of the more memorable leit-motifs of the album’s first half still pierce my humdrum day, causing me to unconsciously begin humming the catchy tunes.

But what is especially impressive is Congratulations’ twelve-minute opus halfway through the album. The song’s subtle transitions between alternating fast and slow ditties effectively replicate the swelling and subsiding of the Siberian Breaks which match the track’s title. The song’s wonderful imitation of a frigid ocean’s surf and tide, as well as the album’s ridiculously oblique cover art, triggers something deep inside of me that makes me want to hang ten with some friends on the melodic waves of the so-called “Pop Surf Opera.”

As a whole, the LP’s overall smooth flow, complete with solid synths, sincere vocals and deliciously other-worldly sounds would bring a tear to even the father of ambient music, English musician Brian Eno. Referenced in the album’s punkiest song, Eno would at the very least be moved to smile at the track’s rousing call-and-response verses, the likes of which are found elsewhere on Congratulations. Now, the album also throws some curveballs in the mix. For example, there are assuredly a number of Lady Gaga haters that were innately drawn to the second-to-the-last track, hoping for some devilishly biting lyrics towards Gaga. They instead discovered the instrumental psychosis of Lady Dada’s Nightmare, described simply by English musician- and Congratulations’ producer- Sonic Boom as “More DaDa than Gaga.” Sorry, but if people haven’t learned by now that MGMT frequently does the opposite of what is expected of them- exemplifying the near-anarchist principles of the Dada art movement- then they probably should not be listening to the group at all.

But perhaps this was MGMT’s goal- to cast off the parasitic and unappreciative hipsters and scene kids from their fan base, yet retaining the faithful few who actually appreciate what they aim to accomplish through their music. So Congratulations, MGMT, on your success in refusing to conform to the ill-founded expectations of many and instead demonstrating your versatility, while still adhering to your principles by creating a truly memorable psych-pop album that will play in my car’s CD player for quite a while.

Your devoted listener,


. . .

I like that MGMT decided not to release any singles prior to Congratulations' release because, as co-front man Ben Goldwasser claimed, ""We'd rather people hear the whole album as an album and see what tracks jump out rather than the ones that get played on the radio – if anything gets played on the radio! There definitely isn't a 'Time to Pretend' or a 'Kids' on the album. We've been talking about ways to make sure people hear the album as an album in order and not just figure out what are the best three tracks, download those and not listen to the rest of it." Releasing Congratulations without promoting any singles beforehand sends a strong message that I think a lot of people fail to comprehend these days. In a time of file sharing and iTunes downloads, it would be awesome if people would appreciate musicians for what they try to convey to the masses through their music, instead of using them for the few tracks that will earn them the most friends at a dance party or at school or some kind of social gathering.

I don't know what attracted me to Congratulations so strongly. I listened to this album at least twice a day every day for about six months straight, and I still listen to it several times a week today. I guess for once lyrics aren't really a primary concern of mine, though that's not to put down the lyrics on Congratulations, which are solid. This album just has a wonderful and inimitable sound that is almost palpable in a way. When I listen to it rise and swell I can feel my emotions following suit, as Congratulations, I've noticed, is intertwined with so many diverse experiences of mine from 2010.

Feel free to submit your candidate for Best Album of 2010 in the comments section below or on my Facebook link.