Music

MGMT: Oracular Spectacular

MGMT dip into the big sounds of the '70s on their debut album, embracing the irony so much they almost overcome it.


MGMT

Oracular Spectacular

Label: Red Ink
US Release Date: 2008-01-22
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

Oracular Spectacular, the debut album by MGMT, is full of indie rock tropes. It's got a revivalist sound, showing itself here in a love of big '70s sound and space rock. It is dripping with irony and awfully self-aware. You can feel the duo constantly mugging at each other, and at us, as the record presses on. All of this piled into one record by a new band, especially now when we're inundated with new bands not worthy of the hype, should be terribly irritating. But it's not. Really. The smirks and winks are laid on thick here, but the band usually manages to overcome them with a sincere zeal for what they're doing. All throughout the record MGMT don't necessarily sound original, but the energy they bring to their songs is distinctly theirs. And the level of execution is spot-on.

The band smartly brought Dave Fridmann on to help produce this record and, as the man is no stranger to big, spacey sounds, the fit is a perfect one. "Time to Pretend", the album's opener, shows off the band's penchant for big synth lines as they sing about the ups and downs of being rock stars. They sing about drugs and model girlfriends and every other typical rock star pitfall. But rather than lament them, MGMT embraces the excesses while sending them up. The faux-strings and spaced-out drums make the song huge and saccharin, which somehow bolsters their persona's wish to live fast and die young while simultaneously belying it. The song sets up a record where the music often strips any sense of self-seriousness from the songs while also fitting perfectly with their subject.

"Weekend Wars" sounds like Stardust-era Bowie, as the band sings about the robot-trudge of the work week. "The Youth" sounds like the Flaming Lips doing a Queen cover -- no surprise with Fridmann at the knobs -- and is both cautionary and anthemic. "Electric Feel", which rounds out the first four tracks, is their take on a funky disco dance number. And while the "this song sounds like this band" move is usually a lame critical move, it seems apropos here. MGMT don't only lend themselves to those sorts of comparisons, they are aspiring to them on Oracular Spectacular. The duo wears their influences way out on their sleeve, and then pulls those big sounds off with equal parts musicianship and wild energy.

Unfortunately, it is an energy that can't sustain itself. Like the young rock stars of "Time to Pretend", the album burns out rather than fading away. The second half of the record settles into a more monotone kind of space rock that is as big as the better first half, but gives us no recognizably distinct songs or catchy melodies. These songs try and coast the wave set up early in the record, but they just can't keep up, as they all lump together to sound like a big, typically Fridmann-esque lump of synth-and-fuzz indie rock. And the way the album falls apart reveals the limits of this young band's scope. The individual songs may be big, but the road they travel is a narrow and short one.

MGMT is a young band, and Oracular Spectacular is a solid start. But let's hope that, from here, they can build on their strengths and push past their limitations.

5

Music

Books

Film

Recent
By the Book

Jack Halberstam's 'Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire' (excerpt)

Enjoy this excerpt of Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire, wherein Jack Halberstam offers an alternative history of sexuality by tracing the ways in which wildness has been associated with queerness and queer bodies throughout the 20th century.

Jack Halberstam
Music

Sotto Voce's 'Your Husband, the Governor' Is Beautifully Twisted DIY Indie Folk-rock

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Gabos releases another odd, gorgeous home studio recording under the moniker Sotto Voce.

Music

Numün's 'voyage au soleil' Is a Trippy, Ambient Ride and Ambitious Debut

Eclectic instrumental trio numün combine a wealth of influences to create a vibe that's both spacey and earthy on voyage au soleil.

Music

L7's 'Smell the Magic' Is 30 and Packs a Feminist Punch

Abortion is under threat again, and there's a sex offender in the Oval Office. A fitting time, in short, to crank up the righteously angry vocals of feminist hard rock heavy hitters like L7.

Books

Can Queer Studies Rescue American Universities?

Matt Brim's Poor Queer Studies underscores the impact of poorer disciplines and institutions, which often do more to translate and apply transformative intellectual ideas in the world than do their ivory-tower counterparts.

Music

Jim White Offers a "Smart Ass Reply" (premiere)

Jesus and Alice Cooper are tighter than you think, but a young Jim White was taught to treat them as polar opposites. Then an eight-track saved his soul and maybe his life.

Music

Ed Harcourt Paints From 'Monochrome to Colour'

British musician Ed Harcourt's instrumental music is full of turbulent swells and swirls that somehow maintain a dignified beauty on Monochrome to Colour.

Music

West London's WheelUP Merges Broken Beat and Hip-Hop on "Stay For Long" (premiere)

West London producer WheelUP reached across the pond to Brint Story to bring some rapid-fire American hip-hop to his broken beat revival on "Stay For Long".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 4: Stellie, The Brooks, Maude La​tour

Today's playlist features the premiere of Stellie's "Colours", some top-class funk from the Brooks, Berne's eco-conscious electropop, clever indie-pop from Maude Latour, Jaguar Jonze rocking the mic, and Meresha's "alien pop".

Culture

Plattetopia: The Prefabrication of Utopia in East Berlin

With the fall of the Berlin Wall came the licence to take a wrecking ball to its nightmare of repression. But there began the unwritten violence of Die Wende, the peaceful revolution that hides the Oedipal violence of one order killing another.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Electrosoul's Flõstate Find "Home Ground" on Stunning Song (premiere)

Flõstate are an electrosoul duo comprised of producer MKSTN and singer-songwriter Avery Florence that create a mesmerizing downtempo number with "Home Ground".

Music

Orchestra Baobab Celebrate 50 Years with Vinyl of '​Specialist in All Styles'

As Orchestra Baobab turn 50, their comeback album Specialist in All Styles gets a vinyl reissue.

Music

Hot Chip Stay Up for 'Late Night Tales'

Hot Chip's contribution to the perennial compilation project Late Night Tales is a mixed bag, but its high points are consistent with the band's excellence.

Music

The Budos Band Call for Action on "The Wrangler" (premiere)

The Budos Band call on their fans for action with the powerful new track "The Wrangler" that falls somewhere between '60s spy thriller soundtrack and '70s Ethiojazz.

Music

Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" Ruminates on Our Second-Guesses (premiere)

A deep reflection on breaking up, Nashville indie rock/Americana outfit Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" is the most personal track from their new album, Home Team.

Books

For Don DeLillo, 'The Silence' Is Deafening

In Don DeLillo's latest novel, The Silence, it is much like our post-pandemic life -- everything changed but nothing happened. Are we listening?

Music

Brett Newski Plays Slacker Prankster on "What Are You Smoking?" (premiere)

Is social distancing something we've been doing, unwittingly, all along? Brett Newski pulls some pranks, raises some questions in "What Are You Smoking?".


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.