Psych-pop duo go method on acid-fu­elled fourth.

Q (UK) - - 2018 New Music Avalanche - AN­DREW PERRY

MGMT have reac­quired their synth-pop mojo. With their 2008 de­but al­bum Orac­u­lar Spec­tac­u­lar, the Brook­lyn­based duo scaled dizzy heights of Transat­lantic suc­cess. Their track Kids was a world­wide hit, its themes of child­hood in­no­cence mir­rored by a sim­ple melody that even a tod­dler could whis­tle. Re­fus­ing to fol­low it up with more of the same, singer/gui­tarist An­drew VanWyn­gar­den and key­board mae­stro Ben Gold­wasser duly cut two “suc­cess freak-out” al­bums, char­ac­terised by scathing lyrics and mu­sic that seemed to pur­posely avoid any chance of a sing-along. These didn’t sell so well, but, four years on from 2013’ s un­happy MGMT LP, the Oc­to­ber re­lease of new track Lit­tle Dark Age sig­nalled a re­turn to form, thanks to its plain­tive cho­rus, ma­jes­tic synth-scap­ing and lav­ishly wacko ’ 80s- style promo video. “It’s funny,” says VanWyn­gar­den, down the line from his new home in the Rock­away Beach neigh­bour­hood of New York, “when we were do­ing the last al­bum, we kept talk­ing about want­ing to make pop songs, but it just wasn’t hap­pen­ing, like we had to get this other stuff out. That al­bum’s very anx­i­ety­filled. Maybe do­ing it al­lowed us to get where we got to with the new one, which is more re­laxed. We’re both re­ally happy that that’s what came out this time.” Af­ter a fal­low 2015, in which Gold­wasser re­lo­cated to Los An­ge­les, work on this fourth out­ing, also called Lit­tle Dark Age, com­menced in early 2016 at Gold­wasser’s new stu­dio on the West Coast. “It’s a tiny room packed full of vin­tage syn­the­siz­ers I bought on Craigslist,” en­thuses Gold­wasser, an un­apolo­get­i­cally geeky synth wizard, from his new home. As a me­di­a­tor be­tween their of­ten-con­flict­ing en­er­gies, they hired in co-pro­ducer Patrick Wim­berly from New York elec­tro-pop duo Chair­lift, who en­cour­aged them to in­vite over po­ten­tial col­lab­o­ra­tors. These in­cluded Kiwi psy­chrock dreamer Con­nan Mock­asin, and Los An­ge­les avant-garde rocker Ariel Pink, who duly wrote the queasy verse lyrics for the gui­tar-en­hanced When You Die (sam­ple

lines, “Go fuck your­self/You heard me right/Don’t call me nice again”).

“We’re both more ex­cited than we have been for a long time. We’ve re­ally tried to con­nect with peo­ple on this record.” BEN GOLD­WASSER

“In about four min­utes,” VanWyn­gar­den re­veals, “Ariel had this piece of pa­per, in­cor­po­rat­ing things we’d just been say­ing in the hall­way. When I sang them, it was like, ‘Yeah, why not? Why can’t this be the lyrics?’ For me that was re­ally lib­er­at­ing, rather than sit­ting there like a poet, scratch­ing out lines for days, try­ing to find some deep, mul­ti­ple-mean­ing thing.” When not vis­it­ing each other, they’d work via email: VanWyn­gar­den re­calls how another song, James, came about when, to stim­u­late cre­ativ­ity, he and Wim­berly dropped “what we were call­ing a mi­cro­dose of acid”, but which – d’oh! – turned out to be more like a full dose. “I spent hours scream­ing at the top of my lungs about Pak­istan,” he re­calls. This wasn’t go­ing any­where pro­duc­tive, un­til, out of the blue, Gold­wasser pinged over a loop, and the two trip­pers com­pleted the track that day, with VanWyn­gar­den find­ing low notes be­neath his usual vo­cal range, “just be­cause I’d been scream­ing all day”. Pos­si­bly the al­bum’s big song, Me And Michael, ar­rived thanks to the duo re­dis­cov­er­ing their shared love of Euro­pean synth-pop. Ini­tially, VanWyn­gar­den had its cho­rus as “me and my girl”. “Then I was like, ‘That’s so bor­ing and cheesy, let’s make it ‘me and Michael’,’ which de­vel­oped into this am­bigu­ous story, and we re­ally liked that – writ­ing a catchy song that gets you pumped-up, but you have no idea what the mes­sage is.” This is MGMT at their best: con­vert­ing zany in-jokes into pop gold. Wrap­ping up the al­bum with long-stand­ing co-pro­ducer Dave Frid­mann, they emerged con­fi­dent for its prospects. “We’re both more ex­cited about be­ing in this band than we have been for a long time,” says an un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally ef­fu­sive Gold­wasser. “We’ve re­ally tried to con­nect with peo­ple on this record, so it’d be re­ally re­ward­ing to see the songs reach peo­ple, and live a life.” MGMT have al­ways been at their best em­brac­ing com­mu­nal eu­pho­ria. They’re head­ing out of the dark­ness, and into the light.

“Con­vert­ing zany in-jokes into pop gold”: An­drew VanWyn­gar­den works his magic on MGMT’s new al­bum.

Ben Gold­wasser: “Let’s see what this knob does…”

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