It’s been nearly six years since their last record, and MGMT is finally returning with their new album Loss of Life next month. Even with distinct sounds, themes, and gaps of time between records, Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden have established an atmosphere over the past four records that is uniquely and clearly MGMT. Before the band’s next chapter fully unveils itself on February 23, I’ve been looking back at their discography thus far with even more admiration and anticipation for what’s next. Very difficult decisions were made, but these are, in my opinion, the band’s top ten best songs ahead of the new album.
Honorable Mentions: “Someone's Missing,” “When You Die,” “The Youth,” “Bubblegum Dog”
10. “Indie Rokkers” (2005, Time to Pretend EP)
Now THIS is the kind of indie sleaze energy we should be trying to revive. The clear highlight of the band’s first ever EP, “Indie Rokkers” chronicles a teenage boy losing his virginity to someone he admittedly doesn’t love. While documenting that first intimate experience, Andrew VanWyngarden captures those feelings of adolescent fear and angst to shift the song out of a completely hedonistic perspective, making it instantly relatable. The buzzing beat and climactic build-up that make this song so addictive were surely a first taste that the duo were multidimensional songwriters worth keeping an eye on, and it was a right place right time discovery for me years later who has to agree with that sentiment. I’d be remiss to not also mention Soccer Mommy’s cover of “Indie Rokkers” from a few years ago, which gives the track even more of a slacker vibe and is very close to on par with the original.
9. “Cool Song No. 2” (2013, MGMT)
It wouldn’t be a well-rounded list of MGMT songs without including one, and only one, from the divisive self-titled record. The songs on the 2013 album are much more downturned and lack the melodic strongholds of the first two records, being convoluted just for the sake of a dramatic sonic departure. However, “Cool Song No. 2” brings murky production and a semblance of catchiness to the table which makes it the clear standout.
8. “Mother Nature” (2023, Loss of Life)
Their first track in nearly four years, “Mother Nature” rang in the return of MGMT this past October. Fitting for a moment so long-awaited, the sweet-sounding track is all about transformation and changing in the face of the inevitable force that is time. Upon the first listen, the introductory chords put a smile on my face, as the track harks back to the sounds of their earlier material with even more realized confidence. “Mother Nature” is vibrant and full of life with nostalgic tones that seemingly set the stage for what’s to come on the band’s fifth album.
7. “James” (2018, Little Dark Age)
It’s a dancy little synthpop song about always being there for a dear friend, what else could you ask for? In this tribute to one of the band’s touring guitarists, the band says “the door is always open” for him, complemented by some shining synths that let Ben Goldwasser take center stage for a minute. “James” is short, sweet, and to the point, bringing a bit of a reprieve from Little Dark Age’s apocalyptic themes and showing that even in the most hopeless times, we always have each other.
6. “Time to Pretend” (2007, Oracular Spectacular)
There’s a reason the three very straightforwardly pop singles from Oracular Spectacular have remained as massive as they are—they’re downright fun. Arguably the best of the three, “Time to Pretend'' encapsulates the feeling of youth directly from the perspective of two guys who met in college. With its trademark synths that hit the ear like an audible dopamine rush, the track sees the band ironically fantasizing about the rockstar life while giving into pleasure, ignoring responsibilities, and living recklessly with no end in sight. “Time to Pretend” is loud and bursting at the seams with energy, just like the band’s dreams it describes.
5. “Congratulations” (2010, Congratulations)
“Congratulations” sounds like a slow descent, sinking further and further by the second. It’s fitting that the song is an internal monologue, describing the band’s reckoning with finding success, not in the way they had hoped. More minimalistic than ever before, the title track on the band’s second (and best, in my personal opinion) record is shimmering in its piano and synth composition, almost as shiny and new as the fame they were granted on the heels of Oracular Spectacular. Perhaps one of the band’s most introspective songs, it translates so much anxiety and disillusionment as the band should be satisfied with all that’s come their way, but deep down all they really sought was serious approval and to not be written off as the band that once penned the words “shock me like an electric eel” (shoutout to Travis Kelce’s wonderful 2010 tweets about that one).
4. “Hand It Over” (2018, Little Dark Age)
MGMT are masters of entrancement, especially on this last track that closes out Little Dark Age. Dreamy in nature with swirling drums and electronics, “Hand It Over” is the closest to minimalistic the album gets while still addressing political turmoil— begging for former President Trump to hand over the presidency along with a sea of echoing agreers. The best kind of protest song is one that avoids being overly preachy and angsty; “Hand It Over” defies the tropes and the calm sonic elements that juxtapose the band’s heavy commentary make this song still compelling as the nation faces continued uncertainty and fear.
3. “Siberian Breaks” (2010, Congratulations)
Clocking in at over twelve minutes and consisting of several distinct musical movements, “Siberian Breaks” is the band’s most ambitious track and its successful execution makes it one of their best. Moving rapidly from section to section, it almost sounds like a sonic tour of all the facets of what the band does best, with retro-inspired harmonies, embellishments of psychedelia, and crashing instrumentals throughout. Inspired by surfing on the waves of Siberia, it lyrically captures the ebb and flow of life and a need for escape. Once you step on the rollercoaster of “Siberian Breaks,” there’s so much to uncover within its lyrics that it allows listeners to pretty much choose their own adventure while listening and interpreting the song which makes it just that much more exciting.
2. “In The Afternoon” (2019, single)
“In The Afternoon'' is almost an epilogue to Little Dark Age, carrying one last time the hypnotic, 80’s goth-inspired sounds that marked the album. It tells the tale of someone moments from death, starting to shut down and finding sweet relief once they cease to exist, just like a “kid in a candy store.” With the lyrics describing a complete loss of hope, death sounds like a timely and ideal escape from the obsessive and objectively fucked world the album preceding it had documented. Veering on the side of morbidity, Vanwyngarden almost sounds like a lower-registered Robert Smith as he drills in these dark images in a way that’s as fun to revisit as a haunted house.
1. “Of Moons, Birds & Monsters” (2007, Oracular Spectacular)
If I could relisten to an MGMT song for the very first time again, I’d undoubtedly choose “Of Moons, Birds & Monsters.” It’s grand, it’s psychedelic, and it unfolds from a groovy, jangly delight into an all-enveloping wave of sound full of electronics and bird noises. Every instrument is turned up to ten on this one, with massive drums and cymbals and one of the band’s most infectious bass lines taking the wheel. Just close your eyes and take every sound in and you’ll see how every minor detail comes together to create MGMT’s most sonically rich moment yet.