Sonic Deconstruction is a monthly feature where we spend an entire week analyzing one song from every possible angle: personnel, instrumentation, composition, recording, mixing/mastering, and production. Check back every day this week for the next installment!
Perhaps the joke is on us. According to their interview on caughtinthecrossfire.com, it wasn’t until Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden began writing pop songs as a joke that they started to realize their music-making potential. Writing under the name “The Management,” even their moniker was a part of the gag—a jab at corporate manufactured pop with the end-game to “sell out as quickly as possible.” We’ve all heard that same tired construct a thousand times in half-baked collegiate pseudo-comedy so even though they don’t get points for back-story originality, they do take home the prize for execution as their efforts have snowballed into genuine pop glory. Somewhere along the way the Brooklyn duo, now performing as MGMT, have forgotten the punchline and are enjoying the kind of global success not known to very many indie rock groups, serious or not.
MGMT is a peculiar entity combining an aged sonic sensibility with a somewhat naïve stage presence.
Critics often chide the youngsters for invoking a psychedelic persona that is worn like daddy’s oversized shirts. Even so, the group has certainly left their mark over the past year after earning accolades from Spin.com, Rolling Stone, and the BBC. Oracular Spectacular has been a global hit and was named best album of 2008 by NME. Their simple but infectious hooks have become part of the pop culture collective unconscious after being featured on numerous television shows, movies, and video games. “Electric Feel” comes pre-loaded on iPods and even French president Nicolas Sarkozy realized the inertiatic power of the pop-synth in “Kids.”
In researching their satire, MGMT unwittingly found the formula for crafting a perfect pop tune. Perhaps their greatest discovery is how to not muck-up the mix with unnecessary complications. Their magnum opus, third single “Kids,” is a modern hit in the sense that it hearkens back to presently fashionable periods in music history. Combining the dancey rhythmic simplicity of disco with the melodic simplicity of monophonic-synth driven New Wave, the song earns high marks by resisting the temptation of cluttering the mix with unnecessary production ideas like chords.
While the group tours as a five piece, the entire record is presumably the brainchild of the twosome plus indie rock super-producer Dave Fridmann. Fashioned over a period of time at his live-in upstate New York studios, Fridmann’s mature acuity is immediately perceptible. His guidance is especially evident when the album is measured against MGMT’s live show and even their pre-producer EP. His sounds are dense yet spacious and provide gritty credibility to what might be an otherwise adolescent romp.
Given the simplicity of their production implementation, MGMT would seem to be the perfect case study in how anyone can craft a terrific pop tune. I mean, if two stoned college kids (armed with only drum machines and synths) can do it as a joke and get signed to Columbia Records, then what’s stopping you?
Watch out for Part II of the Sonic Deconstruction: MGMT “Kids” saga with tomorrow’s contribution–an in-depth analysis of the song’s compositional elements!!