MGMT – MGMT
MGMT are in their comfort zone when they are making their fans feel uncomfortable. Consider a recent appearance on Letterman, in which the band played their new single “Your Life is a Lie.” Lead singer Andrew VanWyngarden bangs a giant cowbell bearing the word “BEWARE” throughout the song, singing mantra-like lyrics: “Count your friends/On your hand/Look at them now/They’re not your friends.”
MGMT’s massive crossover breakthrough in 2007 was unexpected, but not unwarranted. The band had struck a perfect balance between the electronic elements of dance-pop and the psychedelic elements of ‘60s and ‘70s rock music. Their debut sold over a million copies and spawned three chart-topping singles.
Naturally, following this commercial success, they decided to completely change direction.
We now find them at their third, self-titled record, which begins with ambience and a child’s voice softly singing. VanWyngarden joins in mid-way through the first verse of “Alien Days,” singing in harmony with the child. Suddenly, loud echoing drums show up and carry the album into motion.
The lighthearted theme that begins with the child’s voice is constant throughout the album. From the stupidly-titled “Cool Song No.2”, to the ode to self-reflection “Introspection,” MGMT seems to showcase the band at ease, sprouting off insane observations, diverse instrumentation, with a certain playfulness that makes it clear MGMT are not trying to impress – they are just doing what they want.
Arctic Monkeys – AM
Arctic Monkeys’ first album, “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not,” was loved in Britain for being relatable, and loved in North America for being foreign. Frontman Alex Turner described youthful frustrations, getting drunk, feeling in love, and getting kicked out of shitty bars, with a keen eye for detail and a knack for wordplay that was hard to ignore.
Since then, Arctic Monkeys have moved to the US, and teamed up with Josh Homme from the stoner rock outfit Queens of the Stone Age. Their sound now reflects these changes.
On “AM,” gone is Turner’s verbosity and much of his British slang. Where he used to stuff his sentences with as many words as possible, he now drops his words carefully and deliberately. Where there used to be jangly-clean guitars and daintily melodic guitar lines, there are slow, grimy riffs, some of them sounding lifted from Black Sabbath records. Previously, Turner crafted sentences with the precision of an English major, but on “AM” we see song titles like “Do I Wanna Know?” and “R U Mine?”
A highlight is the deceptively-titled ballad “No. 1 Party Anthem,” which features a string section. “Confused, because it’s not like I’m falling in love/It’s just that I want you to do me no good,” croons Turner, adding, “You look like you could.”
Arctic Monkeys were all around twenty years-old when their debut album recorded the highest British first-week sales of all time for a first album. Now, they have shed the youthful energy, attitude, and subject matters. They come across as experienced, more technically proficient, and self-assured enough to keep things simple.
Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe
*It is pronounced “churches.”
They are a three-piece synth-pop band from Scotland, and “The Bones of What You Believe” is their first full-length album.
They released an EP this March, played some of the most hyped-up shows at SXSW, and rode the buzz wave to sold-out shows across the world (including a recent one at the Commodore) with their squeakily polished brand of electronic music. Towering synthesizers and drum machines are neatly arranged around singer Lauren Mayberry’s voice. She sounds bright and clear, her slight Scottish accent giving personality to all the computerized instrumentation.
The album begins with what is probably the biggest hit of their short career, “The Mother We Share.” “If I told the truth/I’d always be free/And keep a prize with me/ Until you go-oh-oh-oh-oh,” Mayberry sings, her staccato of the last syllable synching up with the drums and synth line before the song swells into a soaring chorus.
Throughout the album, Chvrches show a remarkable knack for slipping satisfying pop moments into each song, without relying on clichés. Mayberry balances out the songs that feel like uplifting anthems with unsettlingly sinister lyrics. On “Gun” (which, by the way, is in the FIFA ‘14 soundtrack) she sings, in sugar-coated falsetto, “Hide, hide, I have burned your bridges/I will be a gun and it’s you I come for.”
For some, “The Bones of What You Believe” may seem top-heavy. Most of the songs that have been getting radio play are at the beginning of the album, while the band takes more risks later on. Martin Doherty, who is usually on synth and drum machine duties, takes over vocals on two tracks and while her voice is not as emotive and captivating as Mayberry’s, it serves as a welcome change of pace.
Watching Chvrches’ live performances, Mayberry commands the majority of the attention with her startling beauty and towering vocal chops. But credit is in order for her bandmates, who have crafted the perfect platform for her delivery, making every Chvrches song feel like collaborative perfection that should be savoured while it lasts.