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Overnight pop stars MGMT are still surprised at their own success

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It’s safe to say that the only people shocked by MGMT’s nearly instantaneous rise to fame were the members of MGMT themselves.

The eclectic, psychedelic pop group skyrocketed to prominence on the backs of singles like “Time to Pretend” and “Electric Feel,” both from the band’s debut record. That record — Oracular Spectacular — is now something of a modern pop classic. It’s an album that rarely sags, each track crammed with as many stadium-sized hooks as a song can hold, all with a charming, clever wit.

But it appears that the recognition garnered by Oracular Spectacular’s crazy likeability was not really what the members of MGMT were going for. Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser, the band’s multi-instrumentalist founding members, began to make it very clear that their intentions with MGMT were always more artistic than pop-minded.

“We weren’t really trying to write hit songs or get recognition from other people,” Goldwasser told Interview. “We were doing it mostly for ourselves, just for fun. To have it considered not just as an indie album but as a pop album is really surprising.”

This is the notion the group set out to prove in 2010 with Congratulations, a decidedly heavy-handed assortment of psychedelic arrangements that has little in common with the beloved Oracular. There is much to be said about the group’s lofty ambitions at work on Congratulations, which feels conceptual and curious as it strums through countless chunks of unfinished psychedelia.

Unfortunately, at the time it seemed as though what MGMT wanted to do did not exactly correlate with what the band was good at. Congratulations throws out the hooks for an admirably bizarre ride, but it’s also messy and unmemorable as a result. VanWyngarden and Goldwasser explicitly stated that Congratulations would have no singles and would serve as something as an antithesis to Oracular.

You have to hand it to the boys for making what they wanted to make, despite being under the microscope of fans and rock critics the world over. The price they paid for their artistic integrity was losing many of their casual fans. Was that the ultimate endgame with Congratulations? If so, mission accomplished.

But the fact is, MGMT remains one of the most interesting acts in popular music today because of their ability and their unpredictability. Their new self-titled record comes out next month, and it’s anyone’s guess what sonic territory it will see the band travel to. Even to those who have been disappointed by the group’s endeavors, MGMT is a band that always deserves a listen. 

MGMT with Kuroma • Tue, May 14, at 8 pm • Knitting Factory • 911 W. Sprague Ave. • $30 • All-ages • ticketweb.com • 244-3279

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