MGMT keep finding new and exciting ways to mess with our heads. On the New York art-rock duo’s 2008 Oracular Spectacular, pie-eyed keyboard whimsy was a Trojan horse for cagey lyrics about rock careerism. After the album spawned a couple of small hits, they systematically peeled off a big chunk of their budding fan base with the mad-hatter psychedelic sprawl of 2010’s winkingly titled Congratulations. They’re doubling down on that sound for Album Three, pushing their love of acid-tinged bubblegum right out the back door of the booby hatch, in a good way.
MGMT is a synth geek’s at times wondrous, at times what-the-fuck vision of spaced-out rock, serving up the artisanal brain salad in all-you-can-eat portions with squiggly, gizmodic melodies nipping about like kites in a wind tunnel. Yet the mood is hardly blissy: “Alien Days” opens with hog-pile vocals that suggest a parliamentary debate between the angels and devils of your soul, over a drowsy, heavy drum track and bloopy prettiness that gets swallowed in metallic static; “Cool Song No. 2” is an ominous rumba rumble; and their cover of “Introspection,” by Sixties psych obscurity Faine Jade, is more a smirking joke about turning in and tuning out than an ad for it. “The trick is to try to stay free/When it’s never that great to begin with,” goes “Plenty of Girls in the Sea,” a twisted Brian Wilson lope that sums up an album where ecstasy never comes as easy as you’d hope it would.