Ben Folds has it: Pretty much anyone can cover a Folds tune and it will be money. MGMT was apparently able to write two of the best pop songs of last decade (“Kids” and “Time to Pretend”), but no more.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. has already been anointed with the MGMT mantle as the next great hope for killer indie songs. This is pretty much the kiss of death for their second album, but forget that for now. Let’s party!
“It’s A Corporate World” gets the MGMT comparisons because the band pretty much baits them with opener “Morning Thought.” The fuzzed-out synths, familiar rhythms and vocal-centric approach (which, astonishingly, calls up Paul Simon) nails the pop ethos: all the stuff you already love with a lovable tweak.
That twist is the grace with which they execute the tunes on “Corporate World.” There’s a feel that “Morning Thought” should be an acoustic song: It doesn’t have any grating electronic bits, the rhythms are subdued, and the overall production style is gentle. “Simple Girl” drops the pretense of electronica and throws down one of the most memorable acoustic pop songs I’ve heard in years. (Rhymin’ Simon everywhere! Everywhere!)
By taking a softer approach to electronic music, sounds on the outer range of their bounds still fit in neatly. “We Almost Lost Detroit,” their appropriation of Detroit funkiness, works because the grittiness of the Motor City is evoked, but not actually included in the mix. There’s bombast, but it’s fun and kitschy instead of, you know, gritty.
“Vocal Chords” flexes the titular item, creating another subtle blast (I said it, I mean it) of electronic-via-Paul Simon. Twee dance parties everywhere just got harder; indie raves just got cuter. “Nothing but Your Love” is a lazy Sunday track. “An Ugly Person on a Movie Screen” has a groovin’ bass line and more wonderful vocals; it ain’t “Kids,” but it’s approximately six times more fun than what MGMT is now.
There’s no killshot here, unfortunately. But with the unique vision that Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. (how are they getting away with this band name?) has set out, we could have a lot more enjoyment over a much longer period than the several years (!!) of “Kids” on repeat that we all had.
That is, if they can survive the inevitable backlash on the second album that they are probably already sweating bullets over. Here’s to emulating The Antlers’ sophomore success “Burst Apart” and not the myriad acts that bombed their second shot. —Stephen Carradini