MGMT, the brainchild of Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser, seemed to accidentally stumble upon massive success in 2008. The two met while attending Wesleyan University and never had the intention of crafting big commercial hits, but Oracular Spectacular was just that, defining the sound of the late-2000s indie scene and eventually earning the band a spot in the top 20 of Rolling Stone’s 100 Best Albums of the 2000s. The band’s next two albums were a reactive step back from the mainstream, an exploration of noise rock meant to shake off the casual listener of today’s top hits. With their 2018 album Little Dark Age taking baby steps back into electro-pop, MGMT’s varied catalogue has something for everyone, while aiming to please nobody. Find our top 10 song picks below.
The penultimate track off the band’s 2005 Time To Pretend EP was recently covered by Soccer Mommy, and is getting its second moment in the sun for good reason. “Indie Rokkers” was a high point in MGMT’s early career. A lot of the elements of their greatest hits are already present, from fuzzy guitar tracks to dreamy, far-out vocals.
2010’s Congratulations was a major change of form for the band, a direct reaction to previous release Oracular Spectacular. Despite the band’s initial unwillingness to release any singles, wanting the album to be viewed as a whole, the tracks that were eventually shared as singles were certainly the album’s standout moments. “Flash Delirium” sees the band favoring a psychedelic rock feel over the otherworldly synths of their earlier work, before exploding into a frantic criticism of hypercommercialism and social media with the ending verse: “Stab your Facebook, sell, sell, sell / Undercooked, overdone / Mass adulation, not so funny / Poisoned honey, pseudo-science / Silly money, you’re my honey!”
Spoiler alert: A lot of MGMT’s best songs come from their debut album Oracular Spectacular. While the band appeared uncomfortable with the acclaim it brought them, it undeniably came with good reason. “Pieces of What” comes at the perfect point in the album to shake up the pace, and is about as stripped-down as the duo ventures. With a focus on an easy acoustic guitar, accentuated by the usual MGMT magic, “Pieces of What” is a great taste-breaker and chilled-out tune in its own right.
The title track to Congratulations is somewhere between sardonic and satirical as the band contemplates the aftermath of their commercial success. Floating through with acoustic guitar and a synth that sounds almost harp-like, MGMT hammers home their apathy for it all with the chorus: “I’ve got someone to make reports / That tell me how my money’s spent / To book my stays and draw my blinds / So I can’t tell what’s really there / And all I need’s a great big congratulations.”
It’s hard to think of many songs that sound like “Electric Feel,” with its funky bass and flute-like synth. The trippy, ambiguous lyrics and strong chorus are a perfect example of MGMT’s talents in hit-making.
“It’s Working” introduces Congratulations with a wave of tumbling surf rock. Like many MGMT songs, the lyrics allude to heavy drug use, and the mistrust in reality that followed the band afterwards. MGMT’s Andrew VanWyngarden told Spin in 2010, “I didn’t realize it until now, but it’s kind of funny, because the first song on our first album was ‘Time to Pretend,’ which was about the imagined rock star scenario. So, ‘It’s Working’ is like, ‘Yeah, we went out there and we did a lot of drugs and it’s not that great.’”
MGMT’s discography takes a dip in their 2013 self-titled album, with a majority of the fuzzy and experimental songs overstaying their welcome in a way that the four-to-five-minute MGMT tracks seldom do. It’s a great relief, then, to open up the following album Little Dark Age with a danceable ‘80s synth that brings the energy back, literally opening up with a female voice saying, “Get ready to have some fun!”
“Kids” is undoubtedly MGMT’s most popular song and biggest earworm. The repetitive synth and attention-grabbing opening lyric (“You were a child, crawling on your knees toward it”) make it one of the band’s easiest songs to sing along to, and it’s dynamic enough to remain interesting throughout the five-minute runtime.
“Me and Michael” is a joyous return of the catchy indie-pop of MGMT’s early career, marrying the band’s beautifully layered synths and pleasingly processed vocals with their talent in crafting catchy hooks. The ‘80s-infused track is undoubtedly one of the strongest and most memorable tracks off a truly solid album in Little Dark Age.
“Time to Pretend” is one of the band’s most-loved songs for a reason, and one of the best album openers in recent memory. When its fuzzy, alien ambient sounds break into a bright synth melody, it’s impossible to not feel the infectious optimism of a band in their self-described “prime of my life.” Released in 2007, the nostalgia factor only aids the song’s punch and coming-of-age quality.
Carli Scolforo is a New England journalist and intern for Paste Magazine. She loves late-night TV and reading celebrity memoirs, and never truly left her emo phase. You can follow her on Twitter @carli_sco.