April 13, 2010 / 10:47 PM / 9 years ago

Pop duo MGMT defies critics on "Congratulations"

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Psychedelic pop act MGMT has followed up its celebrated first album by departing from the sound that grabbed the music world’s attention and offering something more timeless, and less dance-friendly.

Early, critical reaction to new album “Congratulations,” officially released on Tuesday, is somewhat frosty, and it marks a reversal of fortune for a band that garnered two Grammy nominations only a few months back.

Yet, the duo from Brooklyn, New York, Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden, say they don’t worry much about what people think is cool, and seem unattached to the electronica sound of their major-label debut, “Oracular Spectacular.”

“In many ways, our new album could have come out in like 1970, and it would have made sense,” VanWyngarden told Reuters in an interview on Monday, ahead of the first of two gigs at San Francisco’s historic Fillmore theater.

He acknowledged that much of the recognition for “Oracular Spectacular” had emerged from the dancefloor.

“But even when it came out, we weren’t really big into dance music, or listening to it, or making it,” he said.

“To be honest, we kind of feel a little bit out of touch with what is going on now,” VanWyngarden added. “(We’re) in our own little sphere of what we think is cool, and I don’t think it’s necessarily what most people think is cool.”

Entertainment weekly described “Congratulations” as “strikingly uncommercial,” while Rolling Stone called it a “hazy, hit-and-miss album that will likely alienate some fans of the debut, but one that also testifies to MGMT’s restlessness as songwriters and human beings.”

Goldwasser insisted they weren’t trying to “stir everything up” and make an inaccessible “experimental” album.

“We still feel like we’re making pop music,” he said.

Yet while the band does not aim to promote any songs as singles, Goldwasser expects certain popular tracks to emerge.

He explained that the label had wanted to release “Kids” — nominated for Best Pop Performance by a Duo Or Group With Vocals at the Grammys — as the first single off 2007’s “Oracular Spectacular,” but the band held off on that.

Ultimately, “Time to Pretend” emerged as their first big song, two years before the Best New Artist Grammy nomination.

“Hopefully there will be another track from this album that kind of jumps out at people, and all of a sudden that becomes a single,” Goldwasser said. “That’s how we’d rather take it — see what happens.”


“Kids” became the center of a dispute between MGMT and France last year, when that country’s ruling UMP party used it without permission, and settled for an undisclosed sum.

“I don’t think we wanted to be obnoxious about it,” VanWyngarden said. “But we did want to point out the hypocrisy of them using a song illegally on their website without permission and trying to pass legislation that punished illegal downloaders and other forms of pirating at the same time.”

Goldwasser added: “There shouldn’t be more restrictions put on how people can discover music.”

The band started as The Management, which the duo would put at the bottom of emails to each other as a joke, in 2004, while they were attending Connecticut’s Wesleyan University.

VanWyngarden said, if their touring schedule allows it, he would like to get up to Wesleyan to play a show in the style like they used to, “back in the day.”

Both are excited about playing the Fillmore before heading down to Southern California for the Coachella festival.

“It’s probably our ideal place to play — an old club with character,” Goldwasser said, before his bandmate noticed a dead pigeon on the inside window sill in their dressing room.

“Festival sound is always a little funky,” VanWyngarden chimed-in. “Maybe it’s good for a few people in the right section. It’s like a party, social thing.

“(But) At clubs, people come and really listen.”

Reporting by Braden Reddall; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte

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