Many debut albums are much rougher and rawer than their subsequent works, but that’s just the nature of the thing. Often times debut albums are filled with the same wide-eyed naivete that their inexperienced creators are bursting with, but they also tend to have a youthful energy and exuberance to go along with it. When it comes to albums bursting with youthful exuberance, there are plenty of good ones to choose from, but today I’ve decided to shine a spotlight on the 2007 debut record of electro-pop-rock duo MGMT: Oracular Spectacular. MGMT is a 2 man operation formed in a dorm room in Wesleyan University and oh boy does their debut album (released 5 years later) give off college nights energy. I’ve selected Oracular Spectacular to join the MTP today partly for this reason, but also because, on top of being so easily enjoyed and touting a summertime vibe, it is a deceptively layered album. But yes, it is just super fun to listen to.
If you’re familiar with Oracular Spectacular, chances are it is because of one (or all) of its 3 singles: “Time to Pretend”, “Electric Feel”, and “Kids”, and there’s really nothing wrong with that. No matter how much I want to praise this record as a full album experience, the best parts of any listen will undoubtedly be these 3 songs, there’s just no way around it, they’re ridiculously catchy and recognizable tracks, but they’re also probably better than you think. Take the album’s opener, “Time to Pretend”, an earworm inducing, remarkably well produced indie-psychedelic-pop anthem. Nobody expects much of this kind of song lyrically, hell, nobody listens to the lyrics at all. “Time to Pretend” starts with what is pretty much the thesis statement of the live fast die young party mentality: “I’m feelin’ rough, I’m feelin’ raw, I’m in the prime of my life// Let’s make some music, make some money, find some models for wives.” MGMT quickly turn from the usual script, singing of missing childhood, their parents, their backyards and their family dogs. They flash ahead to divorcing the model wives and meeting a premature end choking on vomit, all the while pretending that this flashy lifestyle is what they truly want, but for what? The hilarious irony is that this song exists primarily as a party song, soundtracking the drunken escapades of kids “in the prime of their lives” living fast and free. Not every song on this album contains this level of thoughtfulness, but they sure pack a lot more than the average pop album. These thematic elements and interesting lyrics are what allow the album’s back half to shine as well as it does despite not having any hit singles. No track on this album is bad, but you probably won’t find yourself listening to any of its last 5 tracks casually like you will the 3 singles, but as a part of the album experience they’re really excellent. “Pieces of What” and “Of Moons, Birds, and Monsters” particularly hold up well on repeat listens, despite not sticking out on initial listens, but that’s likely as much thanks to the production quality as it is to the lyrics.
Let’s be honest, no matter how good the lyrics on an album like this are, you aren’t listening for the lyrics. The reason that MGMT has enjoyed any success is because of the instrumentals that they lay down and their savviness in the realm of production. The instrumentals really shine on the electronic heavy neo-indie-pop singles that I’ve already talked about so much, but also deliver wonderfully on other, much less catchy songs like the folky “Weekend Wars” or the spacey, psychedelic “4th Dimensional Transition”. No track sounds too much like the tracks before it and all are built with an attention to detail and creativity that makes the whole album sonically interesting, at the very least. And most important of all, this album just has summer vibes. I can’t explain it, but the electric tones of Oracular Spectacular just feel right on a Michigan summer night. Maybe I’m just crazy, but you can’t argue with vibes.
Oracular Spectacular‘s 40 minutes of neo-psychedelic-indie-pop fly by dropping a few earworms along the way. Could it be better? Sure, but how much are you going to demand from the debut album by a couple of dudes just hanging out and making tunes? MGMT proved that they were talented and capable artists with this well realized debut album and, thanks to their attention to detail and musical skills, gave kids like me some great songs that haven’t gotten old yet and probably won’t for a while yet. I wouldn’t say that I love Oracular Spectacular, but I’m definitely looking forward to listening to it again on this 5th day of the MTP.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy Oracular Spectacular!
Shock me like an electric eel.