Culturespill » Prince

MGMT: Surf Jungle Country is Born!

30th March


“I’ll move to Paris, shoot some heroin and fuck with the stars”


If it already feels like you’ve taken one too many sips of hallucinogenic mushroom tea while stepping inside another episode of VH1’s “Where Are They Now,” especially the part where the featured “artists” do lots of drugs, get fat and completely forgotten by the world, and then try to not be forgotten anymore by making really terrible music in their middle age for a “comeback” tour attended by thirteen-and-a-half people worldwide, that’s as it should be: You’re reading an article about MGMT, a duo of self-described “mystic paganists” devoted to “opening the third eye of the world” with their debut LP Oracular Spectacular. The album’s first track, “Time to Pretend,” which is featured in the new movie 21 about some MIT kids who took Vegas to the cleaners by learning to count cards, takes aim at every one of those VH1 cliches with the sharp arrow of the band’s notorious sarcasm:

I’m feeling rough, I’m feeling raw, I’m in the prime of my life.
Let’s make some music, make some money, find some models for wives.
I’ll move to Paris, shoot some heroin, and fuck with the stars.
You man the island and the cocaine and the elegant cars.

This is our decision, to live fast and die young.
We’ve got the vision, now let’s have some fun.
Yeah, it’s overwhelming, but what else can we do.
Get jobs in offices, and wake up for the morning commute.

Forget about our mothers and our friends
We’re fated to pretend
To pretend
We’re fated to pretend
To pretend . . .

There’s really nothing, nothing we can do
Love must be forgotten, life can always start up anew.
The models will have children, we’ll get a divorce
We’ll find some more models, everything must run it’s course.

We’ll choke on our vomit and that will be the end
We were fated to pretend
To pretend
We’re fated to pretend
To pretend
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah

“We were really sarcastic when we met them,” Van Wyngarden tells Rolling Stone of his first meeting with Columbia Records execs, who soon signed MGMT to a four-album deal worth six figures, “They asked us for a list of dream producers, so we made one: Prince, Barack Obama, Nigel Godrich and ‘Not Sheryl Crow.’ ” Culturespill’s vote, for what it’s worth, is for “Not Sheryl Crow”–not EVER, in fact.

MGMT: “Electric Feel,” Oracular Spectacular (2008)

Oracular, a collection of psychadelic synth-pop jams in which Andrew Van Wyngarden sounds like he’s singing from under water and inside the sun simultaneously, at turns Mick Jagger and Andy Gibb, is an easy choice as Culturespill’s inaugural “Best Band You’ve Never Heard of” installment. But you’ll be hearing plenty about them soon. The album debuted on UK charts at the 12 spot, and the band’s core members, Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser, have graced just about every major magazine’s “artists to watch” reports in the past year, including feature coverage in Spin, BBC and Rolling Stone.

Of course, getting feature coverage in Rolling Stone can be a bit like getting a sharp stick to the eye–the magazine wreaks of perfume ads and spends more time endorsing politicians and pop wannabes these days than it does talking about something called “music”–you know, the stuff it was founded for. But while obsolete rags like Rolling Stone strive desperately for a contrived coolness–kind of like that scrawny white boy in high school who came to class with a lunch packed by mom and boasted of many untrue sexcapades in his best Ebonics to fit in–the boys of MGMT do their damnedest to fit nowhere at all.

They got their start doing “these obnoxious, noisy live electronic shows . . . where we would write these weird techno loops and arrangements that we could play with live.” Remarking on “these weird California Credence-style songs” they wrote to perform live a while back, Andrew and Ben explain that “A lot of people hated it. That used to be the goal of our shows. We were still trying to be obnoxious and somehow people got into it.”

MGMT: “Time to Pretend,” Oracular Spectacular (2008)

Drenched in addictive hooks that marry Prince and The Flaming Lips in a union of space-funk and soul that somehow captures exactly the sound the band describes on their MySpace page–“surf jungle country”–Oracular delivers a sound that’s as fresh in 2008 as Beck’s was in 1994, leaping onto the scene with the same “we don’t care” abandon that “Loser” brought to the biz back then. And people are “getting into it”–lots of them. It’s no accident that the album vaguely echoes The Flaming Lips. Oracular IS produced, after all, by David Fridmann, the captain at the console for many a Flaming Lips album. Roll Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots with some speed-laced nicotine and you’ve got the addictive mindfuck that is Oracular Spectacular.

Apart from their music, though, what’s refreshing about Ben and Andrew is their indifference to the punk-rock disdain for corporate influence that has itself become one of the cliches they expose, claiming instead to have “talked a lot about selling out as soon as possible” before anyone but their buddies knew who they were. Touché! Nonetheless, here’s to hoping that next year’s Grammy Awards completely ignore this masterpiece deserving of universal adoration, a neglect that has become a seal of approval for bands too good to be caught on TV with Brittney and Beyonce–and let’s hope it stays that way, for the sake of both the band and their growing number of fans.

And keep your eyes peeled for a curious little LP rumored to be out “in early 2009,” featuring an indie supergroup of sorts that emerged from MGMT’s recent tour with indie pop prodigies, Of Montreal. Kevin Barnes, Of Montreal’s frontman, has teamed up with Andrew VanWyngarden to form a side project called Blikk Fang. Judging from the certainty with which Spin projects an LP release due next year, the two of them seem pretty serious about it.