“Electric Feel” is one of those all-time great dance songs. It never fails to enliven me and I’m certainly not alone in that feeling. The duo behind it, Andrew VanWyngarden and Benjamin Goldwasser of MGMT (formed in 2002 as The Management), became big hit-sellers with that track’s release from their first album in 2007. In the 15 years since then, MGMT has put out five albums. I’m fudging that number a little bit from the traditional “studio album” evaluation (of which there are four), but I’ll explain why in due course. In any event, across those releases VanWyngarden and Goldwasser have proved themselves to be eclectic, fun, and profound musicians. At worst, they put “interesting” stuff and at best great bangers. I’ve ranked MGMT’s five full-fledged albums here, but omitted are things like their bootleg demo release and various EPs.
Favorite track: “I Am Not Your Home”
11•11•11 is MGMT’s latest release at the time of this writing and the impetus for this piece, as well as being the ender of the band’s longest hiatus from album releases. But the record (coming a few months shy of five years after LITTLE DARK AGE) isn’t exactly new, nor is it a traditional album. 11•11•11 is a live album, fittingly recorded 11 years ago on November 11, 2011 (wonder if the dudes were able to play SKYRIM  on release day, if they were so inclined). MGMT played original compositions, which had not been recorded for other projects or released elsewhere until this time, at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. The occasion was an installation for Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan (the guy that taped a banana to a wall quite a few years later). In any event, what the guys produced for such an event is an expectedly spacey and surreal series of sounds. 11•11•11 is MGMT’s most amorphous album, somewhat surprising for what one would think of a live album, but not so much so when you consider its context. But indeed, besides opening and closing audience sounds, the record doesn’t necessarily even sound live, which is neither a compliment nor a detraction. It just sounds like MGMT experimentation, which on the whole is effectively moody. But perhaps divorced from its setting, the performance on 11•11•11 isn’t wholly engaging, even if its repetitive atmosphere is quite heady.
#4 — MGMT (2013)
Favorite track: “Your Life Is a Lie”
The self-titled MGMT was actually the duo’s third album and was immediately and rightfully marked as their most experimental work yet. If it wasn’t for the retrospective release of 11•11•11, that would still be true. And yet MGMT is almost more out there than the live album, which sure, doesn’t fit into typical songwriting structure. But then, most of MGMT doesn’t work with that approach either. Even when the self-titled album does, the sounds produced within the framework are more eclectic, freewheeling, and sometimes grating, I believe intentionally so. A lot of the songs on MGMT pound with a relentless beat, as on “Your Life Is a Lie,” and when they don’t, they enter loose territory. It all makes for an album that feels somewhat confused and one that certainly doesn’t have many strong standalone tracks as exponents. MGMT is not a failure, but its experimental nature definitely immures it from meaningful engagement, on my part at least.
#3 — CONGRATULATIONS (2010)
Favorite track: “Brian Eno”
CONGRATULATIONS was the hotly anticipated second album from MGMT, after the success of “Electric Feel” and the other singles from debut ORACULAR SPECTACULAR. But it did indeed kind of represent a sophomore slump, even if that term applied here doesn’t quite imply the level of experimental indulgence some artists bring to their huge success follow up (the self-titled could more accurately be described that way). CONGRATULATIONS mostly operates in a guitar-oriented mold, although of course it is augmented by the electronic and synth sounds that defined the duo’s first album. MGMT weaves these approaches into an often psychedelic, wild energy, especially represented by “Brian Eno,” which is not slowly ambient like that musician’s famous work. Instead, it proceeds with a madcap pace and vocal performance from VanWyngarden. A rocking effect comes out from the song and its source album, as opposed to the groovier stylings from what came before it. CONGRATULATIONS is strong in this way, even if the hooks of MGMT’s best work aren’t quite present.
#2 — LITTLE DARK AGE (2018)
Favorite track: “Little Dark Age”
LITTLE DARK AGE was seen as a return to the style of MGMT’s name-making work after the departures of CONGRATULATIONS and the self-titled record. And in the main I agree with that assessment, as LITTLE DARK AGE’s mien is that of the overwhelming and inducive synth. The record’s title track, especially with its remote and echo-y vocals, recalls MGMT’s early hits effectively, not the least reason for which is that it’s also really catchy. But even in its most accessible exponent, LITTLE DARK AGE distinguishes itself, marking it as more than an attempt to cash in on earlier successes. There is appropriately a feeling of darkness or menace to the album. Where the spacey approach on ORACULAR SPECTACULAR served to elevate and trip one out, the atmosphere of LITTLE DARK AGE looms with a more dangerous wall of sound. It’s a thrilling listening experience, rich in a way that’s of a kind with MGMT’s best album, but “grown up” in a way. That doesn’t always make for the most purely enjoyable or accessible experience, but LITTLE DARK AGE is impressive in its ability to operate as a fun and catchy album as well as something that resonates deeper.
#1 — ORACULAR SPECTACULAR (2007)
Favorite track: “Time to Pretend”
And yet, nothing from MGMT has yet to top their first record: ORACULAR SPECTACULAR. Sure, it’s the album with hits “Electric Feel,” “Kids,” and “Time to Pretend;” the latter is my favorite track from the album and MGMT in general, but the other two are in the running for tops. But ORACULAR SPECTACULAR also provides across its entire runtime an exceptional, uplifting, and sumptuous electronic-pop-rock experience. MGMT was able to tap into a confluence of heady and “artsy” experimentation, tried and true pop hooks, and rock beats and drive so effectively with this album. Some of the deeper cuts feel almost as qualified to be hits as their more famous accompaniments, and even when they don’t, they stand as profound and affecting interludes. To that end, I can’t quite say the whole of the album receives my unofficial yet recurring designation of “all killer no filler,” but it comes close. Ultimately, ORACULAR SPECTACULAR is indeed spectacular, a twinkling, shining sonic creation that vibrates with a fun but by no means shallow tone yet unmatched by any other record in MGMT’s discography.