“Poor sales of [MGMT’s] last psychedelic release” – sophomore record Congratulations – resulted in their label pressuring them “to make a very different third album,” The Daily Record falsely claimed in a September 2010 “Exclusive,” just five months after the LP was issued. “The band admit label bosses will not be giving them as much creative space,” the infamous Scotland tabloid claimed, attributing frontman Andrew VanWyngarden with saying Columbia would “be more involved and not give us as much freedom…We’ve been looking at relationships with the label during the recording process and it’s quite different this time.”
A few days after “news” of Columbia’s alleged dissatisfaction with Congratulations circled the web, numerous sites spread another rumor: drummer Will Berman was hit in the chest with a “glass full of urine” at a Manchester Apollo show, forcing MGMT to finished the set without him. When Pitchfork got wind of the latter incident they coupled it with the former in a sensational gossip post that spread both rumors immeasurably further.
Andrew shot back at Pitchfork later that day that “all accounts of this alleged piss-throwing/shirt-piss-catching incident as well as the ‘label not giving them as much freedom’ are false and maliciously embellished, as an indirect result of the Malicious British Journalistic Freedom Act (1666) which entitles gobshot writers for shitty British tabloids to make up whatever the fuck they want about whomever they choose (citation needed).”
After a two paragraph explanation of the Manchester Apollo episode (“a celebratory cup of hearty Manchester ale, NOT URINE, was hurled into the air in the direction of the stage”), Andrew finished his letter to Pitchfork denying all rumors about their third album and label tensions:
“We aren’t even close to starting the process of making a new album, label-relations are currently quite friendly, we are very proud of “Congratulations” and the new videos, looking forward to making more music on Columbia, and the (mostly sold out) world tour has been going splendidly THANKS FOR ASKING. Don’t believe everything that you read (even on Pitchfork.com).
taking the piss=bad idea in interviews,
The impression created by British tabloids and spread by Pitchfork in 2010 couldn’t differ more from how MGMT described their experience in the February 14, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone, one year into working on their new album. “‘There’s no illusion on [Columbia’s] part that we’re going to turn into a Top 40 band,” Andrew said, “That’s kind of comforting.” Still the band was well aware some fans wanted more songs like debut Oracular Spectacular‘s hits, and were disappointed by Congratulations. Or as Benjamin Goldwasser put it, “People thought we took too many drugs, which was not the case at all.“
Columbia Records CEO Rob Stringer said as earlier as March 2012 that the label felt “very good” about MGMT’s new studio work (and just last week, MGMT joined label mates Neil Diamond, John Legend, Passion Pit, and John Mayer to honor Stringer as UJA Visionary Of The Year). Although MGMT’s self-titled third album won’t attempt to recreate the singles success of Oracular Spectacular, it will repeat the ways of their debut in two regards. First, it was recorded by Andrew and Ben without their live band, unlike Congratulations. Second, Dave Fridmann returns as producer, this time sharing the role with MGMT (Dave solely produced Oracular Spectacular; Sonic Boom and the band co-produced Congratulations, engineered by Fridmann). This doesn’t mean those disappointed Congratulations was “too weird” will find relief on the new set however. The duo built the new songs from “the best parts of their free-form jams to construct tracks that reflect the Aphex Twin and house records they’ve been listening to lately,” according to Rolling Stone. “We’ll get involved in what we’re doing,” Goldwasser told the magazine, “and the next thing we know, we’ve been improvising for five hours….We’re not trying to make music that everyone understands the first time they hear it.”
Andrew is happy with both their prior albums, and sees the difference between them as a media creation. “I think that we were a little bit naïve going into the promotion and marketing and the initial interviews that we did for the album,” Andrew told The Morning Call.
“I think Ben and I have a healthy amount of kind of just taking things a little bit lightly and not being really serious about the music we’re making because we feel like music should be fun and I think things got a little bit twisted when we were doing our initial interviews. And somehow it got out and reproduced in multiple magazines that we had intentionally committed career suicide or made something to distance ourselves from our fans with a super-experimental. And that was just pretty unfortunate and not fun to have to kind of always be back-tracking and dealing with that in interviews. Because to my ears, when I listen to our second album – which I don’t do that often – or our first album – which I also don’t do that often – they don’t sound all too different to me. And I think it was the kind of people that really only in their minds associated us with “Kids” that have no idea where the second album was coming from.”
The core of MGMT is the duo that started the band: Andrew and Ben. As Oracular Spectacular rose to become a surprise smash in 2008, MGMT was booked to play in front of large audiences – including that year’s Bonnaroo and Glastonbury – with minimal gigging experience or capability to play their studio recordings live. Out of necessity they introduced new members though Andrew claims prior that point, MGMT didn’t “even considered ourselves a band…I mean, we were just kind of like jokesters on a liberal northeastern college campus – you know, wearing like [costumes] and hitting rubber dinosaurs against giant erase boards and running away during shows. We never had played – I mean, we did the tour with Of Montreal and that was our most real kind of experience as a band before we were signed to a major label. So it was all very fast and overwhelming. And it was fun, but it also kind of didn’t make sense in our heads… It had a psychological effect, probably that influenced the second album. And I think that that is cool and special that a band kind of documents its real feelings of what’s going on. I mean, I guess it’s pretty common with a second album after a popular first album, but I’m so happy that we didn’t go into making a second album and try to recreate the kind of style of the popular songs from our first album. That wouldn’t have been, not career suicide, but soul suicide in my brain. So I’m much happier that we did what we did.”
It will be interesting to hear what effect returning to a recording duo will have on the new album, if any, but also once again how the full band will transform studio work into live jams. MGMT is booked to play Quebec City Summer Festival, Common Ground Music Festival, Bunbury Music Festival, First City Festival and FYF Fest in the next two months, along with their own tour dates. Don’t be surprised if they play songs from their self-titled third album, due September 17th. “Something that’d be fun to do is have a decent number of songs on the album that can easily be extended or have sections that could turn into a really trance-y, repetitive thing live,” Goldwasser told American Songwriter last November. “Start off with something and take it somewhere different every time.”
MGMT began working on their third album at the start of last year, confirming five songs had been written in January and commencing recording with Dave at his Tarbox Road Studios on February 27, 2012. Columbia head Rob Stringer praised their work that March, while revealing September 2012 release intent. MGMT returned to Tarbox in mid-May and mid-June for more session and debuted “Alien Days” live at Bogotá, Colombia’s Festival Estereo Picnic on March 30, 2012 (released as the album’s lead single in April 2013). The original plan pushed back, MGMT recorded more and began mixing the album on August 23rd. At the start of 2013 they were back again at Tarbox (now aiming for a June release, since pushed back to September 2013). Finally on March 6, 2013 MGMT were “finishing their new album for Columbia,” according to davefridmann.com.
MGMT’s on-off 2012 sessions were interspersed with tour dates, prompting their only interviews last year. Before their Lehigh Valley Musikfest appearance Andrew explained to lehighvalleymusic, “Ben and I are just having a great time making the new album. And we’ve done three recording sessions. We’re working with Dave Fridmann again, who mixed our second album, and co-produced our first album. And it’s been going great. We’re really enjoying it. We’re kind of getting back into eating a lot of ice cream while we record, which helps the creative flow. I don’t know, but seriously, it seems like we’re in a much freer, kind of more liberated state of mind, and not really anxious or paranoid about much these days. And I think that’s the result of having both been through the experience of the first album, with the kind of unexpected, crazy buzz and everything that followed in 2008, and then the second album, which wasn’t difficult for us, but because people called it a difficult album, even though I don’t know why till this day. But, um, so this album is just kind of like we’ve been able to do whatever we want, and I think we’re making good songs. We’ve got a good bit of material so far, and we’re just going to keep writing until we get to a point where we feel like we’ve figured out what our album is going to be.”
When Rolling Stone visited the final Tarbox sessions at the start of 2013 they found “nearly every corner of every room is stuffed with keyboards, drum machines and guitars. For hours on end, the duo of Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser program synth loops in one room, then run next door to trigger another sequence, until the entire house is vibrating with spacey, rhythmic music.”
“The recording process was really strange,” Fridmann told the Stone. “So we did a cover [of obscure ’60s nugget “Introspection,” by Long Island cult band Faine Jade] just to say, ‘Let’s get back to planet Earth for a second.'”
The album’s first single was a song “about that feeling when a parasitic alien is in your head, controlling things” (as Andrew put it to Rolling Stone), “Alien Days,” released as a limited edition cassette on Record Store Day 2013. Less than a week later at Penn State they debuted another song on the new album, psychedelic jam “Mystery Disease” (above). “Introspection” (above) and “Your Life is a Lie” (below) have also been played at recent concerts. Today MGMT confirmed the full tracklist on their website:
“MGMT are back with their self-titled third studio album – MGMT – set to be released on September 17… Andrew and Ben experimented with various in-studio writing processes, allowing the music to tell them where it wanted to go. The result is a diverse and powerful collection of 10 songs… that directly mirrors the duo’s encompassing surrealist view of the everyday (see below for full track listing):
Cool Song No. 2
Your Life Is a Lie
A Good Sadness
I Love You Too, Death
Plenty Of Girls In the Sea
An Orphan Of Fortune”
Another new song – possibly a B-side, or maybe one of the songs on the album but under a different name – is the instrumental circulating the web under the title “Something to Do With Prince.” Originally planned for a split 7″ with Spectrum and Spacemen 3, the European green vinyl limited to 1,000 copies has since been scratched and it’s pre-order page removed. Hear it here.
The new album’s first music video will be “Your Life Is A Lie” (with Tom Kuntz, director of “Congratulations”) followed by videos for “Alien Days” and “Cool Song No. 2” by Sam Fleischner – all due this summer.
On June 9th the band tweeted the new album’s artwork was being finished, though there’s still more visuals be created. “The band have begun assembling a variety of unique visual elements to accompany and illuminate the new music via ‘The Optimizer,'” the band’s website revealed today. “Produced by MGMT live show video instrumentalist Alejandro Crawford, “The Optimizer” provides listeners of the album with a simultaneously aural & optical listening experience featuring video & CGI work by Andrew Benson, Emilio Gomariz, Geoffrey Lillemon, and Chris Timms. “The Optimizer” is part of an enhanced album package available on all commercial formats.”
Yep, looks like the label isn’t interfering too much.