You browse through three hundred plus photographs taken the day before, all the while exercising extreme self-loathing, until you end up with about eighty six photographs that work for you in some way. Good times.
Not a film score Tuesday. Just finished The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and I must say it’s an incredible achievement. A great deal of what makes this film a success is Ennio Morricone’s score, one that just about everyone who has the ability to hear knows. This is the track "Ecstasy of Gold". I’ve had this score for three years and I was wondering how it’d be used in the film and I must say it’s flawless.
MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular was one of those albums that slowly embedded itself into the public consciousness. My cousin gave it to me among others in a night of intense musical potlucking, but I don’t ever remember listening to it intently. It wasn’t until the band’s sudden burst of popular appreciation that I revisited it and fell in love. Oracular is easily one of the most influential albums in recent history, but there’s something so unabashedly fun and refreshing about the psychedelic glory that is Congratulations.
I heard “Flash Delirium” for the first time when I was in Wisconsin. At the time I didn’t even know they were coming out with another album until a friend prompted me. Hastily I found their first single and gave it a whirl. I listened to it four more times after that in some attempt to make sense of what I was hearing. With “Flash Delirium” it seemed as if MGMT was going against everything I’ve come to expect from them.
The song’s structure is haphazard and never stays in the same place. Ostensibly it’s not as singable as “Kids” and certainly not as danceable as “Electric Feel”. It’s a delirium in and of itself. But with any piece of art, if I don’t get it the first time it becomes more appealing. Accessibility is awesome, but mystery is intriguing. I never gave up on the song, and once the album released I dove into it headfirst.
Congratulations opens with “It’s Working” which instantly establishes the surf rock atmosphere heard through nearly all forty-three minutes of the album. The drums, running bass lines, and synthetic harpsichord are the quirkiest aspects of the song, and they make for infectiously entertaining listening. The chorus, if you can even call it that, doesn’t come until the end of the song. It’s working in your blood / which you know is not the same as love / love is only in your mind / and not your heart … rinse and repeat until the fade out. It’s songs like this, “Flash Delirium” and tributes to Dan Treacy and Brian Eno that provoke an era of Pontiac woodies, bikinis, and board shorts.
The album reaches its emotional peak with “I Found a Whistle”, which has all the anthemic beauty of Oracular’s “The Youth”. It’s a song that in some bizarre way could accompany a slow dance at a 1950s prom. Their lyricism remains cryptic. What’s this whistle about? Who is this aerophane sorceress? They make statements like real emotion’s such a drag and pose the question when it’s gone / has it gone all the way? They make surreality thought provoking. And while some of it makes little sense, it’s hard to care by the end of the song with all the triumphant joy that bursts forth from MGMT’s lungs.
Congratulations isn’t entirely perfect. The 12 minute long “Siberian Breaks” lacks all coherence. It’s a mishmash of ideas and half-songs that schizophrenically drifts through different moods and tones like various waves breaking on the shore. MGMT’s totally aware of this. Lead singer Andrew VanWyngarden described it as surfing in the Arctic Circle near Russia. But there’s something inherently charming in its imperfection. It’s messy, but the band’s earnestness and childlike frivolity absolve any shortcomings.
By this point I’ve listened to Congratulations more times than I can count and I can honestly say that it’s surpassed Oracular Spectacular by a reasonable margin. The wonder of MGMT is their ability to imbue heart within the mania, and those sensibilities are littered all throughout this album. I understand the backlash that Congratulations has generated. Audiences expected to dance, but MGMT offered something more esoteric and complex, creating a challenging experience that’s more reminiscent of the oft-overlooked final tracks in Oracular. Initially it takes a bit of work to get into, but if you take the time you’ll find Congratulations to be a truly rewarding experience.