Danny Clinch

As MGMT proved on its last album and reiterates with a new effort, the band isn’t afraid to push the aural envelope. 

In 2007, MGMT appeared out of nowhere. Friends from Wesleyan University, Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser stormed the pop charts with the from-left-field success of woozy synth-pop gems “Time to Pretend” and “Kids” off their debut album Oracular Spectacular. But their decidedly experimental follow-up, 2010’s Congratulations, caught many of the band’s fans off-guard. Now the duo returns with its eponymous third LP (Columbia Records, $14). And as Goldwasser tells American Way, the album, highlighted by lead single “Alien Days,” is even wilder than you’d imagine.

American Way: Were you surprised fans were so outspoken against Congratulations?
Ben Goldwasser:
We were pretty surprised when people used it to say we’d gone off the deep end. To us, it was crazy because we’ve always felt more focused as a band. [With Oracular Spectacular], we just happened to catch an audience that was just a straight-up pop audience and hadn’t been exposed to anything else. And understandably, they were frustrated when we came out with music that wasn’t like anything they recognized.

AW: It clearly didn’t affect your songwriting; the new album has more free-form songs and pushes even more boundaries.
We had this idea for a while that it was really fun doing free-form stuff and not really having an idea of what the song was going to be — just really having a good time making sounds. Instead of treating it as this fun exercise we could use to help make the album, we realized this was the album. We felt like we were making music that nobody else was making.

AW: From where did you and Andrew derive your musical inspiration for the new LP?
I’m not really sure. It doesn’t sound to me like anything I’ve been listening to lately, which to me is really cool. It’s encouraging that we have all these crazy songs on this album that don’t necessarily have to go with the traditional structure in terms of pop songs. But we really think it is pop music.

AW: I imagine some of the new tunes will be quite challenging to recreate live.
: Oracular Spectacular proved to be a challenge to actually translate to a live band. I’m guessing this is going to be another hard one to figure out how to play live. But we’re creative. We’ll figure out a way to do it.