Album Review: MGMT, “Oracular Spectacular” (2008)


It was about a year ago that I first starting listening to MGMT (pronounced as it’s written, though the band was once named The Management).  A friend of mine recommended them to me, and I bought their second studio album, Oracular Spectacular.

Honestly, after the first listen, I had no idea what to make of MGMT or their sound.  The New York-based band consists of only two members- Andrew VanWyngarden (vocals, guitar, keyboards, drums) and Ben Goldwasser (vocals, keyboards, synths, drums).  Their sound is an indescribable mix of dance music, synthpop, electronica, folk, and indie rock, and their album explores all of these individual sounds on each of the ten tracks.  

However, after a few more listens the album quickly grew on me.  The charm of the disc is the fact that MGMT isn’t afraid to experiment in sound- and the result is a great album, perfect for any time or any mood.

You’ve likely heard the lead single, Time To Pretend on various commercials and in the movie, 21.  At least, that’s where I first had the song, back in March ‘08, and had no clue it was by MGMT until I purchased the album.  Anyway, the song has a psychedelic kind of feel to it, with lots of synthesizers and quirky lyrics (“I’m feeling rough, I’m feeling raw, I’m in the prime of my life/Let’s make some music, make some money, find some models for wives /I’ll move to Paris, shoot some heroin and f*ck with the stars /You man the island and the cocaine and the elegant cars/This is our decision to live fast and die young /We’ve got the vision, now let’s have some fun “)- making for an altogether terribly fun pop song.

“This is a call to arms to live and love and sleep together,” begins The Youth.  I’ve always imagined this track playing in some coming of age movie, right when the antagonist realizes their purpose in life.  The music definitely goes along with that sentiment, with inspiring lyrics, and sing-a-long chorus (“The youth is starting to change/Are you/Starting to change?/Are you/Together?/Together/Together…”).  The song is probably my favorite on the album due to the lyrics and folksy-sound; stripped down production leaves more room for focus on the tight harmonies.

Meanwhile, Electric Feel, brings us back to the 80’s.  The first time I heard this song, I thought it was incredibly corny.  It still is, but that’s part of the beauty of it.  Just embrace the cheesiness of the synthesizers and lyrics!  Soon, you too will find yourself dancing along and singing, “Ooh girl, shock me like an electric eel!” at the top of your lungs at the bar across the street from your college- even when you’re completely sober.  Oh, that’s just me?  Okay.  Moving on.

MGMT b

Kids was apparently the band’s biggest hit, but I definitely never heard it on the radio or saw the video anywhere.  Anyway, the new wave sound is revisited, and again, we are introduced to a lot of synthesizers and digital effects.  I particularly enjoy the chorus (“Control yourself/Take only what you need from it”) of this catchy tune.  Weekend Wars is the one song on the album that always gets stuck in my head after a particularly debauchery-filled weekend.  The down tempo beat allows for more focus on the harmonizing between VanWyngarden and Goldwasser.  I absolutely love the music in the chorus, which has an 80’s new age sound.

The rest of the album hits a bit of a slump from this point on.  While none of the songs are particularly bad on their own, they do all sort of blend together and drag the later end of the album on.  4th Dimensional Transition suffers from being far too overproduced; there’s too much going on at one time and the lyrics get lost in the sound.  There’s an electric-western-rodeo sound (I hope that makes sense to anyone other than me) during the breakdown that I like a bit, but as a whole, the song is pretty weak.  Pieces Of What definitely has a country-folk sound to it, but the song is another that I’ve never really warmed up to; neither the lyrics (“But pieces of what/Pieces of what/Pieces of what/Doesn’t matter anymore”), nor the sound are inspiring.

Of Moons, Birds & Monsters returns to the electronica sound.   The track is upbeat and fun, with no real chorus, and very odd lyrics (“To catch a monster/We make a movie/Set the tempo/And cut and cut its brains out”), but is such a lively, likeable song, that none of its downfalls seem to matter.  The Handshake sounds like something straight out of the 70’s.  I’ve heard this song is about an acid trip, which would explain some of the lyrics (“We got the handshake under our tongue”), and 70’s/psychedelic sound.  However, acid trip, or not- the song is pretty lackluster.

The disc comes to an early end with Future Reflections.  The intro sounds like something from a video game, and it leads us straight into this futuristic sounding song. The lyrics are enjoyable (“But as long as you feel it/I’m a believer/My heart is phosphor/Sea rolls and death tolls/Break the surface don’t break my bones”), but my main complaint is that, musically, the song has no central theme and is all over the place- synthesizers here, guitar there- it’s all just a bit too hectic. While it’s not the strongest end to the album, it’s not a particularly weak one, either.

I like that MGMT is not afraid to experiment with their sound.  Because of this fact, Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser have created an incredibly unique album.  Oracular Spectacular, flaws and all, is a great album- enjoyable from start to finish.

Rating: 200px-4_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Time to Pretend
2. Weekend Wars
3. The Youth
4. Electric Feel
5. Kids
6. 4th Dimensional Transition
7. Pieces of What
8. Of Moons, Birds & Monsters
9. The Handshake
10. Future Reflections

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9dSYgd5Elk]
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