In other March news, Kajsa gave me a really good new tape called “Arctic Vortex”—made, it seems, in mid-February, back when winter seemed like it would never leave. I’ve had the tape since early March and one of the first songs to impress itself on me, on there, is today’s song.
The only song by MGMT I knew previously was the wry and catchy and funny “Time to Pretend,” which I also have on a tape from Kajsa. These guys, Andrew VanWynGarden and Ben Goldwasser, were in college when she was, graduating a few years after, and they went to school up the road there at Wesleyan. Let’s hear it for CT! If either of them took a big lecture course on Shakespeare while enrolled there, it’s possible I graded his work.
Anyway, I knew “Time to Pretend” but never heard the rest of the album, Oracular Spectacular. The song seemed to me like almost a novelty song. The kind of thing that comes along, gets a chuckle and, y’know, so what. Figured they'd be out of the picture in no time, even though that album had great sales. Guess you could say I was considering them “flash in the pan” material.
Well, no. Today’s song is from their second album, Congratulations, which came out in 2010. So I’m already three years behind. It’s OK, I’m used to it. Anyway, this album seemed not to be as deliriously received by their legions of fans, or whatever a rock critic is supposed to say. Who cares? This song, with its hypnotic, low-key sound and that weird falsetto vocal, crept into my consciousness, and then it gets a big pop lift at the end, but in a way that doesn’t sound derivative or anything, rather it’s like, OK, this is what pop sounds like now. Or rather, then. On the strength of my curiosity about this song I went out and got their latest album, MGMT, which came out last September, and also Congratulations.
So now I guess I’m a fan. I can’t say I’ve “fully absorbed” either of the albums, but the third one seems to be starting to win out. And yet. This song is still my favorite at the moment.
I’m drawn in by the deliberate pace and the way Andrew VanWynGarden, singing lead, enunciates lines like “In the long hall pipes are glistening / Blues prepared for anti-christening.” Whatever that means—I suppose we could say it means you’re about to lose your identity rather than gain it. Tone-poem-wise it’s a pretty trippy lyric—“To mirror teeth where neon lures troll”—that seems to go along with a state of some kind of psychic distress. It’s to be assumed that the “someone” missing is likely to be the speaker himself, where “someone’s telling the toll to me”—the first line—suggests a sort of cautionary spiel about the risks of, as the Dormouse would say, feeding your head.
What the song probably reminds me of is the feeling of anticipation, waiting for the psychedelics to kick in. That gradual but relentless flow toward the big crescendo where it all becomes, so to speak, parti-colored, but still in that same lockstep. “And what’s extinct might come alive / A purple smoke in some internal shrine.” Yeah, maybe, but it might also just become still more extinct. And that’s the risk you take. Stoking the internal shrine seems like a good idea though, so, go with it.
The song doesn’t really take us outside that state of apprehension but through repetition the idea that “it feels like someone’s missing” comes to seem celebratory. Hurrah, I’m not here. A consummation devoutly to be wished.
When I heard the song first and through many other listenings, in the context of the tape, it was much more somber than it seems on its own. The song fits the mood of these days where it’s not just a feeling but a fact that someone’s missing, and always will be, from now on.