Never, ever fucking doubt Sonic Boom. Just don’t. Why oh why, we all wondered, is the dark magus behind Spacemen 3 and Spectrum and motherfucking E.A.R. lurking around in California with those nice, young New England boys MGMT? What good can possibly come of this? Five seconds of Congratulations settles every single one of those questions. Setting up camp in a mansion in Malibu as a live-in producer/guru to MGMT during the making of the “difficult sophomore album,” Sonic Boom (aka Peter Kember) came on like a Rick Rubin who doesn’t suck, plying the lads (Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser) with records by Brian Wilson and Joe Meek and Syd Barrett, analogue equipment aplenty, no doubt exotic substances, and tips on how to stop worrying and love the bomb. And suddenly, MGMT, bright and sunny electro-pop band du jour, re-emerge as the wild-eyed, degenerate psych-pop savants they were always meant to be.
I’m not even going to act like I didn’t enjoy MGMT’s debut. I did. Quite a bit. But the new album is the best of all possible volte faces. Gone are the crowd-pleasing electro-pop and starry-eyed new wave/prog fusions. Congratulations is rife with the type of music they should have been making all along… sinister, fried mod-psychedelia. Freaked out and wholly other, Congratulations owes much less to “the zeitgeist” than Oracular Spectacular, instead having a curiously timeless feel. Is this 1967 or next year? What this album is “not” is two things: 1. Despite the presence of Sonic Boom as VIBEMASTER, this is not overly indebted to any of his drugged-up dreampop with Spacemen 3. 2. This is not the “difficult” second album that some would lead you to believe. The tunes are there, in abundance (just won’t be some kinda niteclub smash). Some of the sonic signposts I was able to detect were early Supergrass, the Kinks, David Bowie, Marc Bolan, and Eno’s first solo album.
It’s full-on from the very beginning, the whoosh burst of Pixies-meets-Kinks pop brattiness that is “It’s Working.” I love how the musical arrangements and rush of ideas in “Flash Delerium” just keep building and piling on top of one another like this madman collage, until it finally fractures from a dreamlike hymn into a burst of lunatic hardcore speedfreakery and ends on a dime. “Siberian Breaks” is their “A Quick One.” Academic dissertations will be written about this 12-minute shapeshifting mess, kinda like a tour through the weirder fringes of 1960s music coming back to this one, wondrously sad chorus exploding into sunburst technicolor at 8:30, like Donovan in heaven. “Brian Eno” is this heady blast of Supergrass’ “Caught By The Fuzz” mixed with the man’s own “King’s Lead Hat” and haunted house organ, all amphetamine urgency and spazz dancing. “Congratulations” ends the album on a perfect eternal bummer, like Bowie’s “Space Oddity” or Spiritualized’s “Broken Heart” — great falsetto, great harp, ends with mocking clapping, and that’s all!