The Music of Andrew VanWyngarden, Part Two: "Congratulations" and Beyond




Andrew VanWyngarden

In the December 2011 Memphis magazine cover story “The Future is Now,” I took an up-close-and-personal look at Andrew VanWyngarden, the world-famous musician who hails from Memphis. As lead singer of the indie rock band MGMT, VanWyngarden's career has led him to platinum records, Grammy nominations, and the world's biggest stages.

Who is Andrew VanWyngarden and how did he become one of the hottest musicians on the planet? Read the full story to find out. You can buy it here.

As a web-only supplement to the story, Memphis magazine examined "The Music of Andrew VanWyngarden", ostensibly in two parts.

Part one looked at VanWyngarden's musical outpout during his time at White Station High School, in the bands Glitter Penis and Accidental Mersh. It also examined the music of MGMT from the Time to Pretend EP and culminating with the band's smash major-label debut, Oracular Spectacular.

Part One was posted in December 2011 with the promise that Part Two, about "Congratulations and Beyond," would be released in imminent fashion. I admit it has strained the definitional bounds of the phrase “Coming Soon” to put it out almost two years later.

But, you know what? This isn’t all on me. I’ll take 55 percent of the blame, but, like, 45 percent is the fault of MGMT. I realized that Part Two couldn’t be properly assembled until MGMT’s third album dropped, because the band was still collecting material for the "beyond" indicated in the title of the post. In early 2012, that seemed like that album really was coming soon. But it didn’t come out until freakin’ September 2013. And I knew the band had a tour date in Memphis during the fall. So, I decided to time this post with their show.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

At long last, I’m pleased to present Part Two of “The Music of Andrew VanWyngarden,” which considers the MGMT album Congratulations and beyond. Well, at least up to when MGMT enters the orbit of their third, self-titled album.

Which is terrific, but the subject of some distant day blog post.

I PROMISE.

 

Congratulations (Columbia Records)

The headline of a Reuters dispatch upon the release of MGMT’s second album, Congratulations: “Justin Bieber, MGMT lead U.S. album chart.” With 66,000 units sold upon the album’s release, it was MGMT’s best week ever, commercially. Congratulations charted and sold well around the world. This album was a departure for MGMT, though. After touring and playing songs like “Kids” over and over for years and doing it karaoke style, MGMT wanted to make an album that was music that they felt good about that wasn’t overly serious but wasn’t joke-y either.

“With the second album, Congratulations, we had toured a lot and seen the major label system from the inside, and seen other bands and how it affected them, so it was much more a diary of the album. It was personal. A lot of relationships went in the lyrics, between musicians or romantic relationships. But I feel it’s more cynical in a way.”

Despite the opening week’s sales, on a micro level, Congratulations did not share the success ofOracular Spectacular. It didn’t have those three big hits — or any, for that matter. As MGMT began its tour to support the album, some critics ripped them, and the fans didn’t respond to the new material live at first.

That changed over the course of a year-plus of playing sold-out shows around the world. In May 2011, after recently completing a leg in Asia, VanWyngarden was excited about how fans were responding to Congratulations. “By then it had come full circle and we were playing some of the best shows we’ve ever played, and the crowds were singing along to all of the new songs. It’s turned into a really positive thing.”

 

“It’s Working”

A great song that lets telegraphs in the first millisecond a new direction for the band. Great surf-music vibe.

I love this video and definitely know what it's about.

 

Also: "It's Working" on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson

 

“Song for Dan Treacy”

Named after the lead singer of Television Personalities.

 

“Flash Delirium”

The second best song on Congratulations, I totally love it. "Flash Delirium" has one of my favorite wry commentaries MGMT makes on itself: "The hot dog's getting cold, and you'll never be as good as the Rolling Stones."

And if you've never seen the video, you must you must YOU MUST! It contains all three of the following: singing vagina, phallic snake monster, and anus machine.

I love this video and definitely know what it's about.

 

"I Found a Whistle"

A wistful and deeply meloncholic song.

 

“Siberian Breaks”

The best of all MGMT songs, and if you don't agree I'll fight you. It's 9 or 10 different songs, beautfully structured together. I can listen to it on infinite repeat, if necessary. Don't tempt me.

Memphis magazine: "What’s your songwriting process. 'Siberian Breaks' is a long song; there are a lot of words in that song. Do you write the lyrics then build the song around them, or vice versa?"

Andrew VanWyngarden: "Usually, songs will be complete instrumentally and musically, and we’ll have an idea of the melody and the lyrics over a few months. Lyrics usually come last."

Memphis: "You’ve been on movie soundtracks, but what about doing a score? When I hear 'Siberian Breaks,' I can hear Ennio Morricone and Angelo Badalamenti in it."

VanWyngarden: "Definitely. I love Morricone. We’re waiting for the right movie, the right screenplay to come along. We’ve had some offers and we really want to do it but don’t want to make our debut on a movie that’s not really our style. But, yeah, we’re really into that idea and could do something fun. I’ve always wanted to make something more in the Tangerine Dream kind of old school synthesizer. I really like Daft Punk’s Tron Legacy score. I was worried it was going to be too Disneyed out, but it’s not. It’s pretty sweet."

 

"Brian Eno"

MGMT performed "Brian Eno," named after the influential musician and producer, along with "Flash Delirium" on Saturday Night Live, hosted by Gabourey Sidibe.

 

“Lady Dada’s Nightmare”

MGMT sounds like what a 1960s band might have sounded like if the'80s happened first. Frequently pschedelic, the music is nevertheless rooted in electronic sounds and snth pop heaven. It invites and in some ways confounds the listener.

 

"Congratulations"

A lovely acoustic, mildly Asian-sounding closer, the thematic bookend piece to Oracular Spectacular's "Time to Pretend."

Plus, the video! Such a sad thing.

I love this video and definitely know what it's about.

 

...and Beyond

MGMT was busy in between the albums Congratulations and MGMT.

They showed up during Conan O'Brien's Pink Floyd week in 2011 and played an awesome version of "Lucifer Sam," replete with lobstermen ambience. Watch it here, while you can, I guess.

 

"LateNightTales"

They also curated an entry in the LateNightTales mixtape series. The

Here's the commercial for it.

 

And here's the amazing video for MGMT's cover of Bauhaus' "All We Want is Everything." Video by Hoverlion.

 

"Guggenheim Museum"

In November 2011, MGMT pulled off one of its best tricks so far. They played at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, playing all new music inspired by and in the midst of an art installment by Maurizio Cattelan.

Here's Pitchfork on the event, including stunningly gorgeous photos. And more photos.

 

Video, while it lasts:

Part One

 

Part Two

 

Part Three

 

Part Four

 

Part Five

 

Part Six

 

"Future Games"

In Summer 2012, MGMT went back to mining oldies for its cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Future Games," for a tribute album. Hear it here.

 

"MGMT"

MGMT went back to the studio and knocked out their third album, MGMT. That's the subject of "The Music of Andrew VanWyngarden, Part Three: MGMT and Beyond-erer," Coming Soon!

 

To tide you over, here's a brand-stankin' new interview with VanWyngarden in the Memphis Flyer, written by my colleague Joe Boone. Read it read it!

 

MGMT is on tour now and plays Memphis' Orpheum Theatre on Saturday, November 23rd. Opening act is Kuroma, fronted by VanWyngarden's Accidental Mersh bandmate and sometime MGMT guitarist Hank Sullivant.

I will be at the show and will have a review up on the Flyer soon thereafter, which I'll link from here when it's live. Honestly.

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"901" is the current affairs blog compiled by the staff of Memphis magazine, where readers can find breaking-news tidbits relating to all facets of life in the Bluff City. 

Regular participants include long-time Memphis editors such as Marilyn Sadler, Michael Finger, Jackson Baker, Frank Murtaugh, and Kenneth Neill, along with MBQ: Inside Memphis Business staffers Richard Alley and Anna Cox, and dining critic Pamela Denney.

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