I’ve always had a very deep appreciation for music, but, since I am incapable of performing it, my gratitude is expressed in the massive amounts of time I spend listening to it. As I grow older and become more conscious of the world around me and my seemingly unimpressive and mundane position in it, I see myself relying more and more on music as a form of escapism from the cold and hard truth I often find myself in. Music has the impressive ability to morph my reality into something very different. It also teaches me so much about humans: how others interpret love, loss, disillusionment, etc. It’s very beautiful to be able to travel into another person’s mind and look through their eyes, even if just for a few minutes. That said, I would really like to share one of my favorite songs: It’s called Alien Days, by the rock band MGMT. But before I get into the specifics of the song, I think it is important to explain some background about the origins and history of this band.
MGMT wasn’t formed with the intention of becoming a band. It started when two college freshmen, Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden, started experimenting with different kinds of neo-psychedelic tracks and sounds. Soon, they started to write “pop” songs, which were more of a caricature of popular music and trends of the early 2000s. They started off as more of a performance act than a band and called themselves “The Management.” Their music made fun of modern society: it was a joke about selling out and mindlessly following along with whatever is deemed popular. But one day, this became their reality. Their music was picked up by Columbia Records, and their first album, “Oracular Spectacular” was released in 2007. This album included three hit singles that many music fans know and love: “Kids,” “Time to Pretend,” and “Electric Feel.”
These three tracks had been initially made to mock pop culture, and were not at all what MGMT wanted as a representation of their music. The three songs overshadowed the rest of the album and the other music the band would release in the future. Their music was turned into a product and a sell-out, and MGMT was trapped by the bonds of popular demand and the need to conform to the music trend. Instead, they ended up returning to their roots, and started to release the honest and unconventional music that they loved, despite the pressures to continue their ride to pop stardom. Alien Days is one of their honest songs, but like all the rest of their post-Oracular-Spectacular music, it is judged in the context of their three fake pop songs. MGMT’s past is evident in the lyrics of Alien Days, which VanWyngarden describes as allusion to “a parasitic alien is in your head, controlling things.”
Many listeners have claimed that this song is a narration of the consciousness of someone on psychedelic, mind-opening drugs, and that it’s about the realization of our limited and insignificant position in the universe, our forcefully confined awareness within it, and the detrimental effects an introspection of such thoughts can have on person. In my opinion, one can definitely experience the release of mental confines with the use of mind-altering drugs, but a realization of our human condition, and the desire to escape from it, can happen naturally, so I won’t really go into the question as to whether this song was created with or without the influence of drugs; I don’t think it really matters.
“Sometimes the windows combine with the seams in a way/ That twitches on a peak at the place where the spirit was slain/ One foot leads to another/ Night’s for sleep, blue curtains, covers/ Sequins in the eyes / That’s a fine time to dine / Divine who’s circling, feeding the cards to the midwives / Who love those alien days/ The nonstop alien days.”
Sometimes our lives align in such a way that the window within our soul is opened to the Universal spirit and truth, which leads us to realize the essence of our lives in this universe. This results in the death of our ego and a death of the illusions we had once held. Despite this realization, there is nothing we can do by stay chained to our fake perceptions of the world. During the day we do the normal, societal things such as taking our kids to school, going to our 9-to-5 job, paying bills, and doing the laundry. But our thoughts are allowed to wander during the nighttime: when our outwardly senses shut down and our repressed consciousness to arises in the form of dreams. The “sequins in the eyes” represent the nightly visions we see. Oftentimes, though, dreams become justifications of our material visions (a simple and realistic recount of the past day). So when you are reborn the next day, you are the exact same person. Essentially, it is our own brains and our immense desire to cling to our preconceived notions of reality that result in our Alien days. As much as we like to think that society controls us and makes us act in supposedly alien way, each individual is also their own Alien. We are all fighting ourselves and we are all are own demon.
“Be quick dear, times are uncertain/ One month crawling, next year blurring/ Decades in the drain/ Monograms on the brain/ Decide what’s working and what’s moved on/ To the last phase / The floodgate alien days/ I love those alien days”
The passage of time goes quickly. It goes on whether or not we are conscious of it. We can go our whole lives in a haze without the realization that we are nearing the end, until we finally reach it. Sometimes, time is the only real concept in our lives. Despite its relativity, it always goes forward. Instead, we disregard it and spend decades in the drain being holed up in the rhythms of our own minds. The monograms on our brains are the different ideas and conventions imposed by society that exacerbate our illusions.
“When the peels are down, it feels like traveling in style/ You don’t need wings to hover forty ton stones for a mile/ And in the summer, virgin visions/ Mindless humming/ Numbers can’t decide if the day’s supposed to smile”
When your biases and preconceived notions are erased, we are released from the chains of our fake reality and experience the universe as it is, which affords a more sophisticated trip for our lives. The forty ton stones is a reference to not only Stonehenge and the seemingly magical work humans had been able to achieve but also the realization that one’s mind is much more powerful than we think. This is why we do not necessarily need drugs, or wings, to get rid of our reality. If we realize the power of our own minds and the illusions that have made it weak, we can achieve enlightenment on our own. And when we do, the rest of the world will become a confused buzzing. Our lives would not fit into the mathematical equations that have previously dictated our existences. We will become free from the hold of society.
Well, that’s my interpretation of Alien Days. There are more lyrics that I have left out, but their meaning is pretty similar to the analysis I already have, so I did not want to be repetitive. Overall, this a critique of modern society, but it is not satirical in any way. The Alien Days that we are living in are not purely a result of societal pressures pushing us into boxes and forcing us to conform and be complacent. We are also the cause of our suffering, but we are also the sole source that can set ourselves free.
(Both Images are from Google)
What kind of music do you guys listen to?