MGMT's sound is, in a word, eclectic. Time Out London described their music
as "a woozy, complex and omnipresent sound which encompasses surf, psych, various electronicas, prog and shoegaze. Generally all at the same time." Their two main instruments are guitar and keyboard, but their sound is anything but simple. Everything is synthesized, compressed, scratchy, overdriven, and loopy. Their sound is kind of a throwback to the eighties but with a more modernized twist. All this elaborate craziness has rather simple origins—Andrew and Ben screwing around on a laptop computer in their dorm room
"We would sit and make up these weird little electronic loops, play them live and do silly things over the noise. We didn't sing at that point. Then at some point we decided to start writing pop songs, kind of as a joke, so the whole thing wasn't that serious to start off, it's still not."
When they first started doing live shows while still in school, they basically sat up on stage in front of large audiences and experimented with random keyboard functions for hours. One of the funnier stories is when they played the Ghostbusters theme over and over for an hour. Andrew says
"Yeah, an hour. I mean, it went places, it was a pretty psychedelic version of it, but the drum loop was going the whole time and I just laid on the floor and closed my eyes and muttered stuff into the microphone, Ben held down a synth line pretty well."
Their on-campus live shows became somewhat of a phenomenon because they sounded so different from what was out there at the time:
"[We staged] these obnoxious, noisy live electronic shows -- we never planned on having it be a recorded project -- where we would write these weird techno loops and arrangements that we could play with live. Most of it was running live off the computer and we had a turntable plugged into some guitar pedals, a radio, and a tape player. It was all electronically generated at that point. We would write a new song for each show and our shows would be 15 minutes long." (source
For the album Oracular Spectacular
(where "Kids" can be found), the duo enlisted the help of producer David Fridmann, who also worked with the similarly experimental Flaming Lips. This collaboration seems to have added to the duo's unique musical style and helped to skyrocket them to fame:
"We love his production work. I mean, we didn't want to work with him because we wanted to sound like the Flaming Lips, it was more that we felt like he understood us on a personal level and he really got out music. We were pretty sure after talking to him that he would make it the album we wanted it to be. Dave mixed it and he did a lot of the mastering. A lot of the album sounds over compressed, like really mashed. There's times when there is full mixed distortion, which is crazy, it sounds awesome. He ran the whole thing through crappy 90's compressors. There are so many bands that are over compressed so they sound loud for the radio. I hope our album sounds loud, but not bad."
When asked to define what kind of music has influenced their unique style, they said: [Andrew] We've always been attracted to what we call creep balls music, which is just really strange music. Some people would call it bad, but we call it good.
[Ben] It's really gross music..
[Andrew] We like gross music, examples Ben…
[Ben] Erm, Psychic TV maybe?
[Andrew] I guess we like it if it's pretty, but really strange. We like Chrome, Spiritualized and Spacemen 3. A lot of British music too. The oldies, the goodies!
As far as their albums go, it seems like MGMT's musical style changes from song to song. There is never an overarching consistency to the sound or genre. These boys just seem to want to play whatever they feel like at the time and mix it all up together:
"A lot of times," Goldwasser says, "when we write songs we have had some kind of influence or a style that we really want to put into our music. Like, we'll say let's have that part sound like this and that part sound like that and then we piece it all together. We didn't plan anything, it was more of a song by song thing."
"Kids" basically consists of four main chords that repeat while synthesizers, weird sounds, and beats are layered over them. The three major chords are A Major, f minor, D Major, and E Major. Overall, they come together to create a happy-go-lucky kind of melody, something you might expect in a song about kids. The f minor, however, does throw a bit of darkness and complexity into the mix.
The lyrics certainly don't paint a picture-perfect vision of childhood. Even weirder is that the screaming "children" in the beginning of the song are actually adults' voices that have been altered. MGMT's unique sound style works perfectly here because the electronic loops remind us of our own childhoods (babies of the '80s and '90s, anyone?). The music itself invokes old TV theme songs and other catchy music that kids and adults alike can appreciate.