MGMT - Oracular Spectacular
Bill Cummings 18/03/2008
MGMT (pronounced The Management) are sonic adventurers Andrew Vanwyngarden and Ben Goldwasser who met in University in Connecticut during 2002. Developing their noisy electronic live soundscapes into definable songs has taken them through various outfits and art projects until they finally felt comfortable to commit their work to tape. Their debut album Oracular Spectacular is the result: a swirling collage of ideas born on instruments and computers in their Brooklyn homes. MGMT's oft unique sound is built upon a bed of multicoloured electronic pop structures, imagine a Hi-Fi version Of Montreal broken apart by the industrial minimalism of Suicide, then, layered above, are astoundingly beautiful kaleidoscopic melodies reminiscent of the cracked psychedelia of Mercury Rev and the invention of the Flaming Lips (not surprising given producer David Fridmann's previous work with the Lips.)
New single “Time To Pretend” (“fanciful but with an undercurrent of impending doom”) opens proceedings and it's an absolute gem. Chirping sexy synths hove into view with crazy crashing drums, whilst Vanwyngardens's bittersweet lyrics that mock the excesses of rock n roll are gloriously embodied by whirring joyously life affirming melodies (“yeah yeah yeah's” n' all) that build and build until its all too much and becomes a giant communal anthem on a par with Talking Heads' “Once in a Life Time,” even hinting at the work of Supertramp and getting away with it. (“This is our decision, to live fast and die young/We've got the vision, now let's have some fun/Yeah, it's overwhelming, but what else can we do/Get jobs in offices, and wake up for the morning commute.") Like lying drunk in the gutter at midnight staring at the stars with a great big smile on your face, it should be a contender for single of the year. It's a hard act to follow but “Weekend Wars” with its squelching bleeps and twisting time signatures, not to mention a vocal line dipped in reverb. It's ripe with a wistfulness that brings to mind the work of Grandaddy.
Unlike the Klaxons, most of the time MGMT's experimentation with synthesisers, electro bleeps and beats doesn't feel contrived. When it's thrown at the wall of the traditional aspects of their songwriting this doesn't feel like an attempt to cash in on what's “hot right now,” these beds of sound feel organic and alive with heart. “Electric Feel” for instance throbs and keys with a sexual white boy electro pop that Beck made his own on his Prince influenced “Midnight Vultures” album.
There's a sense of youthful naivety that must find its place in a modern world. The commercialism and progress that typifies capitalist society needs to strip back to something a little more in touch with itself. The cover art alone see's MGMT's creative partnership stripped back to the garb of Lord of the Flies. The theme of youth lends a spine to much of the album with mixed results: if “The Youth,” an anthem for some kind of uprising feels a little forced and repetitive then the joyous keys, clicking dance floor beats of the rites of passage narrative of The New Order-esque “Kids” is simply astounding.
Much of OS is shot through with a post apocalyptic vision, the heat of a sun that's burning ever closer and the impending collapse of the world we once knew. But unlike the doom mongers who predict a dystopian war torn world, often MGMT seem positively refreshing in their outlook, retaining hope in the ability of a society to be reborn. See, for example, the closing track “Future Reflections,” that sees a bunch of castaways surfing and playing at the end of the world. Or the “4th Dimension Transition” that paddles along shore lines shimmering like a 60s piece of pyschedelia, all chanting melodies, that brings to mind the work of the Byrds. It may be a little too “summer of love” for some, but by the time the giant sitar lines that write pretty patterns in the skyline you can't fail but to be won over. Perhaps best of all is the cracked throat strum of “Pieces of What.” Vanwyngarden's twanging echoey vocals ache like Neil Young after smoking twenty B&H, lyrics of loss depict a world or love that's irretrievably broken (“Pieces of what we used to call home…”) .
That the last quarter of the album dips a little in quality is symptomatic of the kinks that exist between the landmark moments on MGMT's debut work, typified by the rather annoying piece “The Handshake,” there are movements that feel like more like post-modern experiments in music than fully formed songs, all surface and no feeling, pieces of music that are a little difficult to connect with like watching a pretty montage of images that have no real impact on the listener. Moments where a frightening kind of MOR 70s Amerciana pops its head above the water, meaning that occasionally they rather let the album down.
But at the spine of “Oracular Spectacular” are thoroughly modern pop songs that not only reflect the times but also point the way to the future, a kind of inventiveness and imagination that many grasp towards but never achieve. These are songs of real life enhancing quality. That the pieces of the album sometimes feel disparate like a jigsaw puzzle that's been scattered all over the floor makes this a good album of great individual moments rather than a great album that works as a cohesive whole, still it's well worth playing.