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Published: Thursday, 5/13/2010

Sounds: MGMT's follow-up disc is self-indulgent, pointless

Funny how advice we are given when young - and at that time rejected because, you know, no one over 20 knows what they're talking about - was actually worth listening to after all.

Like, you only have one chance to make a first impression.

MGMT weren't paying attention if they were every given such a warning. Had they done so they might have thought twice before releasing this pop/psychedelic pastiche that leaves several impressions - none of them good.

It is, instead, self-indulgent and kind of snotty in its "we're not going to meet your expectations for a follow-up disc" way.

Plus, who really cares if MGMT want to channel surf music, or Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, or if they have an urge to pay tribute to Dan Treacy of Television Personalities ("Song For Dan Treacy") or Brian Eno ("Brian Eno").

After the release of their debut "Oracular Spectacular" it seemed like there was hardly a music festival that didn't have them on the bill. Their breezy, electro-tinted sound went gold. The track "Electric Feel" got seriously funky in remix mode.

So you can picture MGMT sitting around thinking how they could produce something the complete antithesis of that. Shock their fans. Whatever.

Of course, motive doesn't matter here. Music does. And the music sounds low-fi and derivative, bringing memories of "Telstar" or "Arnold Layne." On the first track released, "Flash Delirium," time signatures change, a flute gets tossed into the mix for no apparent reason, and the lyrics might have sounded OK in 1967, but only if there was incense burning and lava lamps ramped up to 11.

Speaking of MGMT lyrics, what's with this from "Someone's Missing"? "And what's extinct might come alive/A purple smoke in some internal shrine." Doesn't it come across as if written by someone who's just gone through creative writing 101?

The self-indulgence reaches its nadir on the 12-minute "Siberian Breaks," on which time signatures and musical styles change as the interminable track progresses.

So, is MGMT asking to be taken seriously in its new direction, is it having fun, is it making fun? No one cares. If the disc had the do-it-yourself ethos of punk, it might come across as at least having some integrity. Instead, it's just pointless.

- RICHARD PATON

Natalie Merchant calls this album - her first studio recording since 2003 - the most elaborate project she has ever completed or even imagined. And for good reason.

Five years in the making, the 16-track disc involved more than 100 musicians and took a year to record, not to mention a boatload of guts and ambition.

It fuses the poetry of many literary luminaries, including Ogden Nash, e.e. cummings, Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Graves, and even Mother Goose, with an array of distinctive American and international sounds such as jazz, bluegrass, Cajun, chamber and early music, R&B, plus Balkan, Chinese, and Celtic folk.

About all you won't get is rock or pop. Inspired largely by stories Merchant has read to her 6-year-old daughter, some of the songs have an airy, unorthodox flair, while others have a twist of humor, melancholy, or mystery.

Imagine your mind drifting off to tales of witches, giants, sailors, gypsies, floating churches, janitors, dancing bears, and even a Chinese princess while Merchant's singing along with the Wynton Marsalis Quintet on a trumpet-driven song dripping with atmosphere from New Orleans' French Quarter. Or bopping to a reggae beat, slipping into Appalachia-like mode while accompanied by fiddle and banjo, or getting backed on something more sophisticated by members of the New York Philharmoic or the Chinese Music Ensemble of New York.

"Poets are our soft-spoken clairvoyants," the former 10,000 Maniacs lead singer writes, explaining how she became a late fan of poetry and has been touched by poems with longing and sadness, joy and beauty, hope and disillusionment. It's been said there's music in great writing; Merchant painstakingly shows the depth of her appreciation for that. Also available is a 26-song deluxe version.

-TOM HENRY

This tight little band out of Cincinnati named after the historic Clazel Theater in downtown Bowling Green focuses on irresistible, literate power pop tunes.

Featuring the classic "boy/girl" approach ala Fleetwood Mac or, closer to home, the Hard Lessons, Joan Whittaker and Jason Erickson - both Bowling Green State University graduates - take turns on songwriting and lead vocals. They also mesh perfectly on harmonies, giving the band a diverse array of sounds over the course of a dozen songs.

Everything from hard-driving rockers to quieter folk songs populate the disc and both Whittaker and Erickson are strong writers, giving "I Own Hawaii" a polished, fun vibe.

Local note: Former Sylvania resident and member of the Raisins, the Psychodots, and the Bears Chris Arduser plays drums on several tracks.

- ROD LOCKWOOD



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