In 2008, the lunar soundscapes of Oracular Spectacular were like a glistening pop bazaar, or a shiny cosmic timewarp that was embroiled in 60s / 70s prog rock, then streaked with electropop, dance, hippie tie-dye and a collision of vibrant and varied ideas! Regarded at the time as something of a landmark debut album and turning the two-piece into the genres leading lights, it subsequently crash-landed into every important Best Of 2008 poll procuring prominent positions in all of them! The general consensus being, that here was a stimulating long player which Uncut even went as far as to stamp with "A sugary feast for the senses" seal of approval!
Having struck musical gold, MGMTs Official Biog noted, Based in Brooklyn, New York City, this US band comprises Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden. The duo met at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, and formed MGMT (aka The Management) in 2002, initially as a vehicle for their experiments with synthesisers and drum machines. Over time, the experiments morphed into a full-blown project. The Time To Pretend EP was released on the independent Cantora Records label at the start of 2005, and revealed the duo's penchant for both early Flaming Lips-style psychedelic pop and retro new wave stylings. After graduating from Wesleyan, the duo toured in support of the EP and relocated to New York after signing a contract with Columbia Records. Their debut album was recorded with The Flaming Lips' producer David Fridmann, and released digitally in October 2007 (and via conventional means at the start of the following year). The playful Oracular Spectacular blended healthy doses of glam rock and new wave with psychedelia and acid folk, with Fridmann's superb production helping making sense of the duo's sometimes overreaching ambition.
The world had very much taken note, with further auspicious praise coming from amongst others, Prefix, who called it "a confident debut, one that features two young musicians revelling in their abilities and perhaps discovering ones they didn't know they had." And Q, who declared, "Oracular Spectacular is a triumph of conceptual ambition, a series of fantastic voyages that avoids any of the navel-gazing such notions normally provoke." For many people though, Time To Pretend (a satirical snipe at the clichéd wantonness of the rock n roll lifestyle), would have most likely been their first taste of the multi-instrumentalists unpredictable music, with Electric Feel now the pairs most downloaded song on iTunes and Kids arguably their biggest crowd-pleaser. In the UK, Oracular Spectacular was actually rush-released 3 months early due to popular demand, as being a record that invites you to open your mind to multi-dimensional vibrating Technicolor sounds, meant that early US import copies sold like hot cakes! Not bad for a band who by their own admission, were originally conceived as a college joke and used to play hour-long cover versions of the Ghostbusters Theme!
Adding extra appeal to MGMT, was their strong sense of melody, twinned with ear-worming hooks and weed-fired metaphysical moon-gazing lyrics, which when sung with Andrews preternatural falsetto vocals, paint colourful quasi-mystical pictures. And of course, there are also the intergalactic flourishes, sunbeams and warm waves of sound present in every track. The groups cynical sense of humour, is yet another endearing trait; case in point, when asked by their record label for a list of dream producers, with low expectations they sarcastically replied: Prince, Nigel Godrich, Barrack Obama and not Sheryl Crow." Or how about, Take that Katy Perry! You kissed a girl, but we took acid and kissed the stars and who's winning!?!'' Leaving listeners with a mind-expanding, hallucinogenic chemical buzz, understandably, expectations for the bands follow-up to Oracular Spectacular were extremely high. But upon its release in April, the tongue-in-cheek titled Congratulations (which was produced by Pete Sonic Boom Kember), divided both critics and fans alike, due to a greater emphasis being placed on musical experimentation, rather than the pair writing out and out pop songs this time around.
However, a couple of reviews that I would agree with,
include Drowned In Sounds, Congratulations is no more impenetrable
than The Flaming Lips at their most commercial, with Sonic Boom offering
a bright, upfront mix that keeps the baffling array of omnichords, guitars,
sitars, synths, organs and FX percolating in dynamic, uncluttered fashion.
And Uncuts, who wrote, This is a wilful and lovably eccentric
second album from a band who've had a sniff of being pop stars and decided
they'd much rather be weird and esoteric, thanks all the same.
Of the two psychic pilgrims, Stereo Warning detected, Goldwasser
is unassuming but outgoing and garrulous, while VanWyngarden is flamboyant
but calm and quiet. Theyre the Yin to each others Yang.
As an intrigued fan who has enjoyed listening to both MGMT records equally,
I spoke to Ben before showtime in Birmingham (with support coming from
the beautiful and bedazzling Dum Dum Girls) in the aftermath of their
Summer Of Love and truckload of accolades. To quiz him about
musical wanderlust, his inspirations, how the success of Oracular Spectacular
changed the duos lives and how they now feel about having deliberately
stepped off the path to superstardom
1.Did you have much time to reflect on the success of Oracular Spectacular,
and are you pleased that youve taken the musical path you have
A very special thanks to Ben, to Nina + Christian @ Sony Music, and to MGMTs Manager Dave, for all of their time and help.