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MGMT: Merry Pranksters

2008-04-16 08:05
It’s a nifty opening gambit that goes some way to explaining just why this Brooklyn-based duo have created such a buzz in the press over the past few months. You’re not totally sure whether they’re taking the piss out of the whole sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll clichés or actually being sincere about wanting to live fast, die young and leave beautiful corpses. Come again? Authenticity in 21st century rock music, now that’s a laugh.

Watch MGMT videos:
- Live in London Part 1: psychedelic broadband
- Live in London Part 1: broadband
- Live in London Part 2: psychedelic broadband
- Live in London Part 2: broadband
- Live in London Part 3: psychedelic broadband
- Live in London Part 3: broadband

Stream all the song clips
- Oracular Spectacular

Okay, so that "Time to Pretend" title is probably a dead giveaway. And yes, hearing Andrew Wyngaarden and Ben Goldwasser explain how their staccato keyboard arrangements were supposedly inspired by the spastic dance moves of their pet praying mantis was probably why Rolling Stone’s Kevin O’ Donell labelled them "irreverent pranksters" or Black Book tagged them as "petulant art punks". After all, such irony is par for the course in a postmodern age where pastiche is the pound of flesh with which every 'next big thing' plies their trade.

Yet it still doesn’t explain why so many critics are going gaga over these guys. What the hell did Spin.com hear when they named MGMT "Artist of the Day" back in October last year. And what is it everyone from Rolling Stone and the NME to the BBC tuned into when they all pegged MGMT as one of the Top 10 "Artists to Watch" in 2008. Are such plaudits anything more than major label marketing hype? Beyond the by-now-requisite cocktail of psyche-rock playfulness, electro-clash shenanigans, glam high jinks, disco rock dalliances, and funk-folk frivolity is there any actual original musical substance to MGMT’s genre-morphing methodology?
Uh-huh. Thing is, MGMT are not your average bunch of indie-disco-rock amnesiacs. They’re different. They sidestep the plagiaristic reverence that castrates so many of today’s retro-obsessed hipsters. Just listen to Weekend Wars. Yes, it’s easy to map this mystical acoustic psyche-pop implosion straight back to the Flaming Lips. But depending on what frequencies you’ve fried your synapses with you could well end up discovering Neil Young jamming with Spiritualised (remember Laser Guide Melodies?) or maybe even Mick Jagger tripping out on his Satanic Majesties Request. Of course, you’re never going to hear that if you happened to get your Yoshimi off a torrent now are you?

MGMT know this. They also know the 'rock star' myth died once and for all when Kurt Cobain blew his brains out. And that any sense of 'rock' now only exists in the ephemera, in joining the dots way back beyond Interpol and Joy Division to the Velvet Underground and The Kinks. Hallelujah! So they’ve got a razor sharp sense of humour and they’ve done their wikipedic homework that extends all the way back to the sensational sounds of the 60s, big deal.

It is and it gets bigger. See what sets MGMT apart from the comfortably cloning pack is that they understand POP. Their retort when SonyBMG’s A&R accountants offered their alternative upstarts a release on one of their indie imprints? "Nah, we want the Columbia logo emblazoned all over our CD please." It’s why they insist on spiking their 'experimental' cocktails with plenty of huge pop hooks that percolate through the attention deficit disordered disco funk of "Electric Feel", a contagious ditty that actually has the balls to imagine Ziggy Stardust getting jiggy with Beck and Barry Gibb in a Studio 54 bathroom with the Trampps' "Disco Inferno" blaring on his iPod Nano! Phew! Get the picture yet?

No sweat. Just press 'play' again. How does a head rush that morphs from the Ultravox-ed electro-disco rocker "Kids" and the dippy tribal rock of "4th Dimensional Transition" into the spaced in folk trappings of "The Handshake" grab you? Hmmm, sounds like a po-mo pastiche of LCD Soundsystem, Royal Trux and oh my word, is that the Scissor Sisters!?

Got the picture now? No. Just take one look at their goofy, stoned post-apocalyptic hippie couture and you know MGMT isn’t the next Arcade Fire or White Stripes. MGMT (that’s pronounced 'MGMT' and not 'Management' by the way) are not indie rock saviours. But who cares? They’re also not as one-dimensional as that "Acid Test Kool Aid x Ween + Satanic Era Stones = MGMT" formula Rolling Stone Magazine pigeonholed them with either.

Maybe the answer is way simpler. Perhaps, to paraphrase Filter Magazine critic Andrea Busssell's assessment of MGMT, the solution to the "post-millennium, post-Radiohead identity crisis that is modern rock" lies not in saying 'okay' to the computer, or treading back to the raw power of the live rock band, but in "being smart enough to wallow in between."

- Miles Keylock

"Let’s make some music, make some money, find some models for wives. I’ll move to Paris, shoot some heroin and f**k with the stars" declare MGMT during a particularly trippy symphonic synth—rock manifesto off their debut CD Oracular Spectacular.


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