In the wake of the runaway success that followed their instantly iconic debut record Oracular Spectacular, MGMT found themselves feeling very conflicted. On the one hand, there was a great deal of pressure to recreate the mass appeal of hit singles like "Kids" and "Time to Pretend," but the band also longed to evolve as burgeoning sonic artists.
With the release of the band's self-titled third album, which is set to drop September 17 via Columbia Records, we can be certain that MGMT have boldly opted to forge a new path. You won't find soaring synth-pop anthems on this collection of densely psychedelic tunes: multinstrumentalist and co-songwriter Ben Goldwasser says he and collaborator Andrew VanWyngarden have let go of all expectations and crafting a disc that truly embraces their restlessly creative spirit.
"After the wild ride we’ve been on the last few years, we’re getting the sense of being grounded, and [we’re] able to ignore the background noise and let something happen naturally," Goldwasser says. "To us, [the new album] feels like the most honest thing we’ve ever done—not so much irony as some of the music we made before. The more we worked on the album, the more we felt that way about it."
That honesty is reflected in the album's minimalist title. When asked to explain why the band opted to name it after themselves, Goldwasser admits the title started off as a joke about the weight of their expectations. But the meaning quickly shifted, turning into a forthright emblem for where MGMT's collective head is at. The new album is not designed as a "return to form," and they like it that way.
"We thought it was a funny thing to do. There are some examples of bands who’ve self-titled their third or fourth album, and it’s kind of [presented] as the “return to form” or something. It’s funny, because it’s definitely not that for us. If anything, we’re going further into outer space than we’ve ever been, musically."
This interstellar journey is comprised of a set of sprawling, largely electronic-based psychedelic grooves, like "Mystery Disease" and lead single "Alien Days," both of which have been previewed in a live concert setting.
So how exactly did the band figure out how to abandon Oracular's anthemic synth-pop and the madcap '60s-inspired pop of their sophomore album Congratulations? Goldwasser says that a new songwriting process was necessary in order to chart new sonic terrain.
"We didn’t have too much of an idea of what we wanted the record to sound like until we figured out the new way of writing. We started to experiment with having a lot of gear set up and synchronized together so we could perform live and write as we were improvising. We recorded really long sections of music, and [went] back and edited it. Especially the second half of the album, a lot of it was created in that way."
As an album, MGMT is compositionally complex. But Goldwasser adds that in an effort to embrace elaborate songwriting, he gleaned inspiration from a far more straight-forward musical aesthetic.
"Musically, I’ve been really inspired by a lot of punk rock," he says. "Less sonically and more conceptually. I really get into how a lot of punk music really plays around with styles, and doesnt take the ideas of style too seriously."
For a band who spent years searching for the best way to expand upon a signature style in which they felt unfairly confined, the free-floating sound of MGMT most definitely comes off as a punk rock move.
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