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MGMT's new CD manages to up the wow factor

Posted 5:21pm on Wednesday, Apr. 14, 2010

The acid flashbacks arrive early and often on MGMT's eagerly awaited sophomore effort, Congratulations.

Coming off like a merry, hallucinogenic-addled gang of art students clad in Wayne Coyne's beatific optimism and hopped up on Syd Barrett B-sides, this record builds upon the shaky charms of Oracular Spectacular, the 2008 debut of MGMT (pronounced "management").

While the first album is notable mainly for its buzzy singles Kids and Time to Pretend, as well as Dave Fridmann's astro-glam production, it didn't cohere and left many wondering if Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser were merely the latest flashes in the pan.

Congratulations goes a long way toward suggesting that the pair has a future beyond making hipsters nod approvingly.

There's a scope and, most importantly, an ambition to these nine songs that feels revelatory. Consider the loopy, Saturday-morning-cartoon-bender Brian Eno, which contrasts sharply with the sweeping, cinematic Siberian Breaks; both comfortably co-exist on an album, produced by the band and Pete Kember (formerly of Spacemen 3), that traverses a range of psychedelic landscapes.

Congratulations also manages the tricky task of feeling unified, yet distinctive, from track to track. It's far from accidental -- VanWyngarden and Goldwasser told New Musical Express this year that they wanted the album to be digested as a whole rather than be raided for radio-ready singles. What a positively throwback concept -- a record that doesn't use filler to prop up the obvious hits.

What's more, it speaks to MGMT's willingness to synthesize and improve on the past, rather than fall into the trap that ensnares too many aspiring bands. Leaning heavily on acts like Pink Floyd or David Bowie for inspiration but failing to try anything new and simply regurgitating pale sonic imitations is what passes for indie rock innovation.

Instead, MGMT, which fills out to a quintet in concert, boldly infuses its melodic weirdness with hope and melancholy. Much of what transpires here would be expected from a British act, not an American one, given the UK's penchant for shamelessly recycling the sounds of yesteryear.

The unnerving '60s psych-pop simulacrum is as mesmerizing as the unshakable sense of temporal displacement, most keenly felt on I Found a Whistle and the too-brief Someone's Missing.

VanWyngarden and Goldwasser should brace themselves for the onslaught of attention Congratulations will bring. Few things are more satisfying than a band seizing the opportunity to prove itself, something MGMT has done with aplomb.

Download this: Siberian Breaks

Preston Jones is the Star-Telegram pop music critic, 817-390-7713

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