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MGMT get meditative on Loss of Life

"Loss Of Life"

Release date: 23 February 2024
MGMT Loss Of Life cover
20 February 2024, 09:00 Written by Elliot Burr

Continuing to warp every expectation, MGMT remain enigmatic experimenters in the face of trends that have rarely governed how they should sound.

Even Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser’s crash-landing introduction was nothing short of bewildering. In the odd dying embers of guitar music, nobody could predict the steep rise of a duo dressed as Lost Boys talking about electric eels. MGMT had wormed their way into the pop charts as if through druggy hypnosis, which is probably the best descriptor for the unforgettable “Kids” riff anyway. They had a visual gimmick they pulled off well. They could have continued it if they wanted to. But they didn’t.

From very first single “Time to Pretend”, preemptively mocking the idea of fame and fortune, the two knew the music business’ craving for gargantuan hits they could write blindfolded. Instead, they made a Syd Barrett-style psychedelic odyssey with no obvious singles. Then a scratchy challenging experiment that didn’t nail their identity as self-titled albums usually aim for, returning five years later re-armed with pop synths that sounded a little gloomier than, well, the ones on Electric Feel. For casual followers, MGMT are seemingly scrutinised as a passing thought that made some popular rock songs in 2008. Which is unfair of course, as MGMT has endured for two decades from doing whatever the hell they want. Really well, too. Over and over again.

Loss of Life continues this ethos. It’s a stylish swerve dipping into luxurious large-scale arrangements with woodwind flourishes, haunting lullabies and even “20% adult contemporary”, showcasing their breadth of influence and genre play across ten tracks with more scope than ever. VanWyngarden and Goldwasser proudly confessed this album’s “relatively painless birth” and it shows; they’re having a ball crafting whatever their hive mind comes up with. Magical things happen that way – the sadly underloved Congratulations, for one – but unlike that record’s meandering epic tendencies, this thing melds dramatic weirdness into structured memorable moments. “Mother Nature”, the lead single, delights in indie-folk while subverting the listener through more ominous chord changes. “Bubblegum Dog” is an apocalyptic alt-rock humdinger. “People in the Streets” decides to let rip with an audacious keyboard solo that wouldn’t feel out of place in prog’s glory days.

But like VanWyngarden’s misleading vocal melodies in the hook of “Mother Nature”, the smaller niftier ideas employed in MGMT’s undercurrents deliver as much impact as these showy instrumental breaks. Driving drums pitter-patter without ever needing to build to a cheesy climactic moment in the nuanced and plucky “Nothing to Declare.” “Dancing In Babylon”, a career-first duet with Christine & the Queens, imagines spotlights on each singer that subtly transforms from a show tune into a muted club hit. And employing cryptic fairy tales involving “igneous basketballs”, castles, Disney On Ice and the eponymous Bubblegum Dog mean that, by the time of reaching this journey’s end – an existential musing in a spacey horn-laden thrum – the band’s underlying reckoning with love, ageing, the tangible world and the fearful imagination demands even greater focus with a relisten.

In that sense, MGMT’s fifth outing occupies a similar (albeit far more refined) arena as all that came before. It’s accessible only at arm’s length, unearthing its bizarre mystery, warmth and sardonic sadness when you delve a little deeper. Their universal appeal and poppy tendencies have never diminished, but MGMT will never stop taking after their cult favourites in employing fantastical whimsy in whatever they do. And it feels they, and plenty of others, are absolutely thrilled with that.

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