While not exactly a classic, MGMT’s “Flash Delirium” is a haunting enough track to earn its place on any Halloween playlist.
This week, we’re counting down to Halloween with more creepy songs fit for the season. Even though we’d planned on only covering classics and oldies this week, we’ll make an exception here and there for the right song. And if you’re looking for a good one to listen to that’ll get you in a psychedelic, Halloween mood, you could do worse than “Flash Delirium”. And it’s got one of the creepiest, most surreal music videos you’ve ever seen, to boot.
Also, while it isn’t “technically” an oldie, a nine year old song in this day and age is practically ancient. But before we hop into the song itself, first let’s take a look at the album it appeared on.
“Congratulations” was MGMT’s second album, and follow up to their hugely successful debut, “Oracular Spectacular”. Released in 2010, the album came out a full three years after its predecessor. And the world wasn’t exactly prepared for what it got.
For some context, “Oracular Spectacular” turned out to be an even bigger hit than anyone was expecting, including the band itself. With the singles “Kids”, “Electric Feel”, and “Time To Pretend” dominating the radio, MGMT had unknowingly thrown themselves into the mainstream. Apparently, this didn’t sit well with them.
For “Congratulations”, MGMT cranked up the weird to 11, almost as a challenge, it seems, to their fans’ sensibilities. Along with that, they refrained from writing “single songs” for the album, and toned down the accessibility in general. It’s as if they didn’t want to be as popular as they’d become. That being said, the album as a whole still showcases MGMT’s incredible songwriting ability.
“Flash Delirium” was the leading single released for “Congratulations”. After listening to it, it isn’t hard to see why. With a run time of four minutes and sixteen seconds, “Flash Delirium” manages to smash together a wealth of styles including old school rock and roll, electro lo-fi, subversive pop, and even some light thrash in the last few seconds.
Along with the combination of styles, “Flash Delirium” also includes an ensemble of instruments. You can hear moments throughout the song where horns, flutes, synth or guitars take over. The combination of jumping styles and alternating instruments gives the song an intentionally disorienting effect.
While the music itself gives support to the eerie tone of “Flash Delirium”, its the lyrics that bring out traditional themes often paired with the horror genre.
A delirium is an intensely disturbed state of mind that can be brought about from a fever, intoxication, or other disorders. Effects of delirium include restlessness, hallucinations, and incoherence of thought and speech.
Deliriums are often seen in both horror films and literature. H.P. Lovecraft became famous for pairing delirious protagonists with unfathomable cosmic horrors. In “Flash Delirium”, MGMT utilizes this trope to characterize mental health and our relationship with social media.
The mirror ball’s throwing mold
You can’t get a grip if there’s nothing to hold
See the flash catch a white lily laugh and wilt
But if you must smash a glass first fill it to the hilt”
Here, the “flash” marks the delirium coming on, followed by the hallucinated visuals and self-destructive thoughts. Later on, a full stanza is dedicated to the rise of social media.
“Here’s a growing culture
Deep inside a corpse
Ages stuck together
Takin’ it to the source
Pictures on a screen scream
‘Hey people, what does it mean?'”
It’s hard to characterize this as an optimistic take on how social media effects culture. It reads more like a paranoid, dystopic cry, though it’s delivered by a chorus of overly-cheery voices.
Overall, “Flash Delirium” is possibly one of my favorite MGMT songs. It doesn’t pull any punches in its message, and does so in an incredibly engaging and interesting way. I like songs that surprise me, keep me on my toes, and manage to sound good and say something meaningful at the same time. If you do too, you’ll probably also like “Flash Delirium”.
In order to get the full Halloween effect, it’s best to listen to “Flash Delirium” while watching the music video, which plays out like a miniature horror short. It’s got everything from the creepy group of cult-like family members to snarling monstrosities, to abrasive visual effects. Oh, also super creepy, singing dolls. Enjoy.
That about does it for our discussion today. I hope you liked listening to and learning a little bit about MGMT’s “Flash Delirium”. We’ll be back tomorrow with another song you can add to your Halloween playlist this year.