What is it with bands of a certain level of self-importance that, some albums into their career, want to name their third of ninth or something after themselves? The Libertines, Arctic Monkeys, The Cure, et al (The Velvet Underground, Scott Walker and Franz Ferdinand made a career out of it…) Smacks of massive, self-indulgent, lazy, unimaginative pomposity – and I love most of the artists above-mentioned.
Anyway, what connects Tame Impala, Mercury Rev, Pond, The Flaming Lips and MGMT? Yes, you guessed it art rock watchers, it’s producer Dave Fridmann. This Gandalf of New York State, from within his shire of Tarbox Studios, has been sprinkling his ganja-spiked fairy dust over the records of willing sonic-explorers for nearly as long as I can remember. The man is the epitome in polishing psychedelic turds.
Liam Gallagher once bemoaned producers, saying all they do is sit around drinking coffee all day. Well, not always – sometimes they become as key, or even more valuable, than the ‘artists’ themselves. What I’m wading towards here is that MGMT’s (eponymous, if I hadn’t said) third album definitively comes across as Dave Fridmann featuring Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser: his years of trick-deploying, knob-twiddling and acid-fried soundscapes ably filling many a hole where a song should be.
And this is no criticism (apart from the lack of songs bit). When Fridmann flexes his finger-muscles, lovely, lush, simmering, explosive things happen. Here on ‘Alien Days’, he takes MGMT’s future-glam dreams, and much as in debut album’s highpoint ‘Weekend Wars’, makes them a glittery, stack-heeled reality. Slacker-named ‘Cool Song No. 2’ and the one you’ve heard, ‘You’re Life Is A Lie’ (great to hear a couple of tweny-something surfer-stoners telling you that) follow similar multi-layered, everything-including-the-kitchen-sink, Drone-bomb explosions and nature sounds, deployed. When the song already exists, it’s lovely; when it doesn’t, it’s art-chillout.
The boys themselves have declared that they don’t want to make music that is easily accessible on first listen. That’s admirable, and this album is indeed an amalgam of the good times, let’s-not-upset-Columbia debut ‘Oracular Spectacular’, and their rather drained sounding, introspective but idea-filled sophomore ‘Congratulations’. VanWyndgarden has said that REM have been an influence this time around – I presume he means early REM, as the lyrics and vocal delivery are oblique, tired, and low in the mix. Stipe made this enigmatic – MGMT make it quite tiring (‘You’re Life Is A Lie’ excepted.)
So, maybe Dave Fridmann’s most accomplished set yet, with the sense to know that leaving the two boys in the corner fiddling with their tablets is not such a bad idea. All that said, if your idea of avant-garde US psyche art pop is Jonathan Donahue sipping margeritas by the pool while Jean Michel-Jarre goes nuts in the DJ booth – and don’t bemoan the absence of soul or integrity that might entail – it’s ideal.