MGMT - Congratulations (pre-release stream)

This age of digital media and social networking doesn't lend itself to patience. Waiting for things has become so old fashioned that we often can't get through a day without the instant gratification of looking up a fact in question or downloading instantly the album (or song) we just heard via radio or a friend's device. Since no band desires to fall behind, restricted by release dates and touring sales of new albums, we find that many albums become available through streams or download long before the physical prints have left the press. There's also the consistent and harrowing issue that many new albums leak via hacking or other "errors" well before they come out. Radiohead's In Rainbows leaked early prompting the band to give it away, and even Googling the term "albums leaked 2008 (2009, etc.)" garners mostly demands for leaked albums. Is it pure desire to be the first to hear this music? Or is it the drive to get more things for free via the internet? Either way, it has motivated artists to stream their albums in full, before or just post leak, to prevent the shit from hitting the proverbial fan. By doing so, content is even more clearly owned by its creators, which should, and I mean should lead to potential leakers to reconsider their abuses. In a way, anyone who sees a band live before their new release has received the same music, but for all the blah blah record company stuff involved, it's a heavy-handed Robin Hood argument. Surely, once the album is out, pirating it is an act of grabbing up the available digital content that can also be sold, but when you start snagging music before it has even come out, that seems less "little guy v. big guy" and more "opportunists v. bands."

But, I digress. All of this comes up because MGMT is currently streaming their new album (in the present form anyway... Wouldn't the best surprise be to leak an album you never meant to release? Something comprised of alternate mixes and b-sides or c-sides? Only to bring out the real thing as a kind of artistic prodding of the thieving bear.) at WHOISMGMT.com. They readily admit that the album leaked, somehow, and that while they'd like to just give it away, "that didn't make sense to anyone but us," read: Sony didn't like the free-music idea. Instead, it's streaming there, currently nine tracks long. As a preview, and perhaps not the final form (perhaps my conjecture wants more mystery than exists in the music industry), the album is very good, but completely different from 2007's Oracular Spectacular. This new album Congratulations is mostly '60s power and dream pop homage with several hints of overwrought '80s synthesizer. It is distinctly MGMT, but also distinctly a resistance to previous pigeonholing. Where Oracular was about dealing with the existential crises of growing up and acknowledging that we aren't all going to be famous stars like we've long hoped, Congratulations is a more personal, directly sincere and vulnerable album. MGMT clearly seems to be taking things back to basics. There are less sprawling tracks with over-over-over-dubbed sound and vocals. Often, the music is articulate and simple, even sad, relying more heavily on guitars and simple drums with only the occasional electronic garnishes. And many of the tracks feel like drifting in space, a sort of non-place, where Oracular felt so rooted in the physical, living, wanting, needing, dancing, growing, being, this new direction feels like it is made of thoughts and concepts, feelings, passing knowledge.

What hasn't changed is the elaborate way some simple sounds intermingle to create something that feels dense, if distant. While the vocals often feel far away, as if the words are fighting to get close to the listener, but all the music won't let them, the music doing the blocking always beautiful. There are flutes, organs, and all the accoutrement of a baroque pop band present here, so maybe that's what MGMT is this time around. (And there's a distinct Belle and Sebastian vibe happening, unless I'm mistaken.) Congratulations doesn't have any clear hits, but "Siberian Breaks" and "Flash Delirium" provide a lot of quality shoe-gazey moments. "Brian Eno" is a solid, if monotonous piece of driving lyrical homage. Congratulations is going to be a great, if extremely different, follow-up to MGMT's 2007 success, but they might lose a few fans seeking more of the same. Check it out, and maybe it will be like this when it comes out. Either way, I'll be picking up a copy.

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