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Published: 2011/02/01
by Tom Volk

Qu'est-Ce Que C'est La Vie, Chaton?

I’ve got a news flash, a little pearl of wisdom, that I’d like to drop on you before we discuss MGMT’s recently released EP Qu’est-Ce Que C’est La Vie, Chaton?

You can’t believe everything you read on the internet.


For a few years I’ve read various online ramblings, message board postings and general internet ephemera, sometimes anonymous, sometimes not, that implicate MGMT as a lousy live band. Subconsciously I internalized that notion and approached the new EP with a little trepidation, expecting sloppiness despite never having experienced MGMT live, in person or via recordings. A few years ago that reputation might have been earned but this release proves that they have certainly cleaned up their act. I stand chastened. Leave it to MGMT to shake my faith in the integrity of random online music analysis.

Loosely translated to English, “What is Life, Kitten” was recorded over three nights in Paris, France this past October. There is no new material on the EP, and nothing is revelatory in a way that adds a undiscovered dimension to the young, en vogue outfit from Brooklyn by way of Connecticut. The EP serves notice though that the band is a maturing, serious live outfit and has put some effort into rounding off some of the rougher edges that plagued the newer material from 2010’s Congratulations. All five songs on the EP , three tracks from their sophomore effort, one from 2008’s Oracular Spectacular and one from the 2005 EP Time To Pretend, are played straightforward but they sound brighter and punchier in their execution than they do on the studio albums. It’s that added dimension that makes this release worthwhile, a must for the serious fan and one that wouldn’t disappoint the casual fan either.

It is the first release for MGMT since their second full album, one which received a lukewarm reception and was very much a classic love it or hate it proposition. Congratulations suffered from a breathlessly stoned/ tension filled aura, it wasn’t that the music was bad but it just sounded like a band that wasn’t coping very well with the spoils of stardom (or maybe enjoying it too much.) The striking thing that you take away from the first listen of this EP is that the fog of that burden is gone, you can tell that they are enjoying themselves because the tunes sound refreshed. Simply put, the material benefits from being let out of the studio and into some fresh air. It is as if the weight of the very, very swift rise to stardom the band experienced has been lifted, or maybe co-founders Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser have just simply come to terms with it.

Musical highlights? Check out the David Gilmour-esque riffing that doubles up the synthesizer melody of “Weekend Wars” or the relentless urgency that permeates “Destrokk.” “Congratulations” is transformed from a hollow lament in the studio to soulful ballad sung by a band that was forced to grow up quicker than they probably would have preferred. The tongue-in-cheek “Brian Eno” closes the EP out and leaves you feeling like any good live show should leave you; wanting a little more.

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