“I’m feeling rough, I’m feeling raw, I’m in the prime of my life.” So go the instantly-recognizable first lines of 2005’s “Time To Pretend,” which became a smash hit from psych-pop duo MGMT when it was re-released for their acclaimed Oracular Spectacular disc two years later. In many ways, those words would go on to characterize the rest of the group’s hippy-tinged catalog — blissfully wild, youthful, sharp-edged and bursting with brainy wit.
The group has come a long way since forming in a dorm room at Wesleyan University in 2002, and it seems that band-leaders Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser may be ready to take the band one step further. In May, the duo wrote a heartfelt letter to fans promising a new record this year — the first since 2013’s self-titled album.
As we await more news on the forthcoming project, Billboard Dance has rounded up the 15 best MGMT songs to date, from the group’s first forays into psychedelia in the early 2000s to the tracks that brought the underdogs into the mainstream.
15. MGMT – “Of Moons, Birds & Monsters”
Even with the band’s lyrics at their most cryptic (see verse one: “are you mad at your walls?”), MGMT has a certain knack for conveying a very specific feeling. This trippy, acid-burned track off 2007’s Oracular Spectacular is one example. As muffled vocals muse on shadows, cutting brains out of monsters and a “pale gray garden,” distorted guitar strums and electrical squeals give off a spooky, slightly melancholy mood that feels like a cold fog, songified. If there’s one thing MGMT excels at, it’s setting a scene.
14. MGMT – “Indie Rokkers”
Let’s throw it back to 2005’s Time To Pretend EP to honor this grungy, lovesick tune guaranteed to tug at your heartstrings. Like many MGMT songs to come, “Indie Rokkers” ruminates on a hallmark of adolescence — this time, losing your virginity — and makes no secret of it, with a set of angsty, coming-of-age lyrics to match. “I’m a young man in my prime/ with my heart still filled with fear,” runs the chorus, coming to a close with the stomach-dropper, “heart is in the right place, brain is in the dirt.” The purposely misspelled title adds to the track’s idea of youthful innocence, but also lends it a flicker of bitterness and sarcasm.
13. MGMT – “Metanoia”
?Here comes possibly the most underrated song of MGMT’s entire catalog — the nearly 14-minute long epic, “Metanoia.” Released as a single in 2008, the track never made it onto an album, but its inability to fit in anywhere is exactly what makes the track so great. The song, which gets its name from the Greek concept of a profound spiritual transformation, tells a long-winded, mystical story through a variety of textures, from twangy guitar strums to choir-like hums and medieval-sounding melodies. What this story is saying, though, is pretty much up to interpretation. (Try and figure it out, and you just might go through a “metanoia” of your own.)
12. MGMT – “Siberian Breaks”
MGMT’s song “Siberian Breaks” is the kind of complex, mentally-demanding track that requires your full attention, but is bound to attract it anyway. The 12-minute track is about as psychedelic as MGMT gets, weaving far-out vocals with dreamy guitar chords and plenty of abrupt transitions, bringing to mind Pink Floyd‘s mind-boggling “Atom Heart Mother.” Throughout, you’ll hear the song’s stellar refrain — “running away isn’t rough, but it’s not enough.”
11. MGMT – “The Handshake”
The group has spent much of their career dismantling our very ideas of fame, and this wobbly, cult-like track is one of the best examples of that. MGMT’s song “The Handshake” reveals the group’s reservations about signing with Columbia, employing sharp, witty lyrics that liken the restrictions of a record deal to an insane asylum, where “the handshake” is a pill hidden “under our tongue.” It’s dark, brutally honest and masterfully written, an instant anthem for rebels in the music industry (and otherwise).
10. MGMT – “The Youth”
We see the idea of youthful rebellion come up again and again in MGMT’s discography. But in Oracular Spectacular‘s “The Youth,” the running theme is at its most direct. This MGMT song is something of a battle cry, beginning with the triumphant words “this is a call to arms/ to live and love and sleep together.” By contrast, the chorus is purposely preachy — “the youth is starting to change, are you?” It’s a purposeful song that will captivate audiences young and old, and one that shows MGMT beginning to lean toward a more structured brand of pop.
9. MGMT – “Love Always Remains”
This Time To Pretend gem sounds remarkably different from the rest of MGMT’s music, with clear vocals and a sparse beat that combines piercing key strokes with a steady drum kick and what sounds like a distanced violin. The track’s romantic story of long-lost lovers is sweet, nostalgic and kind of sad — but altogether a breathtaking listen, and possibly MGMT’s most hopeful.
8. MGMT – “Flash Delirium”
MGMT has a case of “Flash Delirium” on this adventurous track, melding everything from flutes and horns to electro-pop, rock n’ roll and lo-fi sounds. The intricately crafted Congratulations single builds up to a rapturous explosion, calling on listeners to “sue the spiders” and “stab your Facebook.” If you think the track is trippy, just take a gander at the VMA-nominated video above, where Goldwasser pulls an eel out of his throat at a welcome-home party.
7. MGMT – “Weekend Wars”
Apocalyptic themes, rich instrumentals and twisty, mythical lyricism make this Oracular Spectacular track feel much more expansive than its four-minute run time. And while it’s just as dippy and psychedelic as MGMT’s earlier work, “Weekend Wars” has a more polished feel, with a rippling keyboard melody and strung-out vocals that lead up to a satisfying tribal chant.
6. MGMT – “Pieces Of What”
“Pieces Of What” is heartbreaking. But it’s the track’s very ability to evoke such strong emotion that earns it a spot among our top 10. Seeming to describe a post-apocalyptic war, the tender, acoustic song meditates on a scramble to pick up the “pieces” of something broken — “but pieces of what?” the duo cry, before sighing, “doesn’t matter anymore.” Clocking in under three minutes, it’s one of MGMT’s shortest songs, but packs a sucker-punch, straight to the heart.
5. MGMT – “Congratulations”
If you know anything about MGMT by now, it’s pretty clear off the bat that this “congratulations” isn’t sincere — especially when the track begins with the croon “dead in the water.” But our No. 5 pick is MGMT cynicism at its sharpest, and smartest, laying down the truth that sometimes success isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
4. MGMT – “Time To Pretend”
Let’s be honest: Anyone of a certain age who claims they haven’t at least been tempted to belt the lyrics to this ebullient, brainy pop track with the windows down is just fooling themselves. Originally released in 2005, the satirical song that imagines MGMT as rock stars was in many ways prophetic — it became the group’s breakout hit when it was re-released on Oracular Spectacular two years later, and remains one of MGMT’s most highly lauded songs to date. And while the bubbly, buzzy beat is iconic on its own, it’s the lyrical gems that make “Time To Pretend” an instant classic: “This is our decision: to live fast and die young,” declares the hook, “we’ve got the vision, now let’s have some fun.”
3. Kid Cudi feat. MGMT – “Pursuit Of Happiness”
This nightmarish party anthem off Kid Cudi‘s debut album, Man On The Moon, is in many ways the perfect guest opportunity for MGMT. Everything about the track is up the band’s alley, from Cudi’s partly slurred verses on the low points of fame, to the distorted melody featuring Ratatat and dystopian themes. The breakthrough track helped catapult MGMT toward the mainstream, and a stellar remix by Steve Aoki didn’t hurt.
2. MGMT – “Electric Feel”
MGMT isn’t exactly known for love songs. But damn, does the group deliver passion on “Electric Feel.” This disco-infused, brooding tribute to one lover’s “electricity” is as steamy and sensual as it is gorgeous, with a dreamy, slithering melody and hair-raising lyrics to match — “saw her in the Amazon / with the voltage running through her skin / standing there with nothing on / she gonna teach me how to swim,” the track croons. It’s no surprise that the song has been openly admired by everyone from Katy Perry, who released her own cover in 2008, to Frank Ocean, who sampled its beat on Nostalgia, Ultra‘s “Nature Feels.”
1. MGMT – “Kids”
“Kids” combines just about every one of MGMT’s signatures — from the themes of youthful innocence and suburbia to its synth-pop-meets-psychedelia beat. The playground-sampling track is not only one of MGMT’s catchiest and addictive in terms of sound — hell, it’s one of the most brain-sticking singles of the entire decade — but it also showcases their lyricism at its most meaningful and refined. “Kids” peaked at No. 9 on Billboard‘s Alternative Songs chart, and has been covered or sampled by an impressive list of contemporaries, from The Kooks to Weezer and Chiddy Bang for their 2010 hit “Opposite of Adults.”