On Nov. 11, 2011, MGMT played a one-time-only live set of music at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in conjunction with and inspired by Maurizio Cattelan’s exhibit “All.” Cattelan, who was most recently noted for his piece “Comedian” — consisting of a banana duct taped to a wall — suspended 130 of his pieces from the ceiling of the Guggenheim rotunda.
According to the band’s Instagram, both the museum space and the art therein inspired their “loose, hypnotic, and psychedelic” set which was left unreleased to the public for exactly 11 years but was recently released on Nov. 11 of this year. It’s a far cry from what fans have come to expect from MGMT, but many of the strengths present in their other works remain here.
After a brief introduction, “Invocation” introduces the set. The majority of the song is built over a droning synth holding a single note with shifting melodies moving around it. The use of the drone as well as the structure of the melodies around it invoke the sounds of Indian classical music in the mode of indie synth-pop.
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In the last minute of the song, the chord finally changes, keeping the wide, echoey texture but moving to a more Western melodic structure. The prolonged presence of the drone makes the change somewhat surprising near the song’s end, but the shift is to something more familiar for the majority of MGMT’s audience, relieving the tension of the drone.
As the record continues, more and more of MGMT’s typical sound creeps in, but they still maintain the delayed, psychedelic texture. “I Am Not Your Home” features a similar drone at the beginning, this time in the high register, floating over crunchy, echoing guitars.
This high drone continues throughout the underlying chords changing, recontextualizing it in each section of the song. Themes of tension and release remain prominent, with some sections sounding discordant and uneasy while others sound harmonically stable and relaxed.
“Who’s Counting” begins with a polyrhythmic groove between drums and guitar with floaty synths playing in the background. The vocal, when it enters, is flush with delay and only makes occasional appearances. When the chorus comes in, it becomes clearer and more consistent, sounding like a familiar MGMT song for the first time on the album.
The tune slides back and forth between these subtly different feels, settling on the clearer one for the song’s conclusion. It becomes somewhat repetitive towards the end, mitigated somewhat by sporadic synth and guitar lines playing in the background.
The album closes on “Under the Porch,” which borrows from the sounds of surf rock, mixing them in among the psychedelia. A guitar solo opens the song wandering and loose without much pushing it along.
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The groove is very relaxed, taking its time and giving the soloist room to breathe, but it still keeps the texture interesting. Around the four-minute mark, though, the solo becomes somewhat tedious, and listeners hoping for a shift to something else will be sorely disappointed.
Although this album is a departure from MGMT’s modus operandi, it certainly has things going for it. MGMT superfans will no doubt be thrilled to have access to a previously lost piece of the band’s past, and connoisseurs of psychedelia and jam band music may discover a newfound appreciation for the band.
More casual listeners of MGMT’s, like myself, will likely be turned away by the uncharacteristic direction “11.11.11” takes. Although the foundation is solid, it overstays its welcome more often than is comfortable. I often found myself waiting for a musical shift that never came. Still, though, I appreciate having access to this one-time performance, even if it didn’t particularly strike my fancy.
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