Today we’ll be launching into a new segment called Modern Classics. In this series, we’ll be looking back on the past ten years or so and highlighting some of the albums we think will stand the test of time.
So let’s get things started. Today we’re looking at MGMT’s indie-pop masterpiece, “Oracular Spectacular”. MGMT was a band that never wanted to be popular. If you’ve listened to any of their albums since “Oracular Spectacular”, it should be clear that they’ve backpedaled from their original sound. Unfortunately, none of MGMT’s other work has made as large of an impact as their debut album. They seem to prefer to shoot for the esoteric now.
“Oracular Spectacular” was released on October 2, 2007 by RED Ink, and physically on January 22, 2008 by Columbia. While the album only sports ten tracks, nearly every one of them is a masterfully crafted, indie-pop/space-rock/psychedelic-synth hit.
The album was released with three singles attached to it. These were “Time to Pretend”, “Kids”, and “Electric Feel”. These songs permeated the indie-pop culture, and had a hand in it merging with more mainstream dance music.
The album can be looked at as divided into two distinct halves. The first half is upbeat, driving, and contains each of the three singles, along with two of the other strongest songs, “Weekend Wars”, and “The Youth”. The track list continues to entice you further and further into the album. It’s how MGMT gain your trust. By the time you realize you’re halfway through it, a little voice in your head tells you to keep listening, because these guys know what they’re doing.
The second half of the album is a little different. The tempo slows down substantially, moving closer to an introspective space rock. This kicks off with the Eastern-influenced “4th Dimensional Transition”, arguably the weirdest and most “out there” song on the album. This is the first taste of MGMT trying to steer clear of the mainstream. But it still manages to be a solid, well-crafted song.
The next three songs, “Pieces of What”, “Of Moons, Birds, & Monsters”, and “The Handshake” are at the core of the second half of “Oracular Spectacular”. None of them are single material, but in my opinion, this is MGMT at their best and most nuanced.
“Oracular Spectacular” ends with a song that manages to walk the line between the weirdness of “4th Dimensional Transition” and the catchy quality of “Pieces of What”. It starts off with a frenetically-paced instrumental before dropping into the slow, echoing first verse.
The song continues to build and evolve through the second chorus until it erupts in the chorus. Once the chorus hits, it feels like you’ve just taken your first breath of fresh air. Right when you think you know where it’s going, it changes yet again and transitions to the spacey outro.
Most Overlooked Track: “The Handshake”
One of my favorite tracks on the entire album is “Of Moons, Birds, & Monsters”, one that I feel is often overlooked and not given as much credit as it deserves. The way it continually shifts styles and tone is nothing short of brilliant.
Andrew VanWyngarden’s lyrics take the cake on this song. It’s somewhat hard to tell if they’re intentionally cryptic with real meaning, or just absurdist stabs in the dark. Regardless, VanWyngarden brings all of the appropriate emotion to both his vocals, and that killer guitar solo that kicks off the next transition.
My favorite handful of lines comes right before the horn and guitar solos. “The falling apart / Made me a shadow in the shape of wonder /The waves of black / If she’s going under I can hold my breath till the sky comes back / Or drown like a rat, rat, rat”.
The song ends after over two minutes of a beautiful instrumental outro that builds with accompanying synths, melodic guitar, and a crescendo of percussion.
Years from now, when we’re all old and gray and looking after our grandchildren, one of them will bring up a hologram of this album cover and ask about it. Now that you’ve read this, you can successfully tell them all about one of our generation’s modern classics.
But by then, your grandchild may just be able to download all of that information straight to their brain. So maybe don’t count on it as a surefire way to bond with them.