Forty years after the Summer of Love (and thirty years after the Summer of Hate), MGMT is celebrating the grand re-opening of the third eye of the world with Oracular Spectacular (2008), the duo’s much-anticipated first full-length album, an enigmatic and prophetic collection of hallucinatory sounds and hook-riddled pop tones for the new millennium.
MGMT is: Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser, two psychic pilgrims whose paths first intersected in the green pastures of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, circa 2002. “We weren’t trying to start a band,” Ben remembers. “We were just hanging out, showing each other music that we liked.”
Andrew and Ben realized that – despite their opposing views on methodology (one is spontaneously practical, the other is practically spontaneous) – they shared a common love of mystic paganism (ironic indeed on a campus named for the founder of Methodism), psychotropic sounds, and the belief that a joke (or a joke song) could be sad, profound, and funny at the same time.
The pair was drawn to the music of other duos and found themselves incorporating the implications of the hallucinatory power-twee of the Incredible String Band, the roaring subway minimalist electronica of Suicide, the silky pop-soul of Hall & Oates, the pulsing narcotic trance of Spacemen 3, the avant-garde industrial romanticism of Royal Trux, and much more into the constantly evolving sounds of MGMT.
As on-campus performance-art provocateurs, Andrew and Ben began staging a series of “these obnoxious, noisy, live electronic shows – we never planned on having it be a recorded project – where we would write these weird techno loops and arrangements that we could play with live. Most of it was running live off the computer and we had a turntable plugged into some guitar pedals, a radio, and a tape player. It was all electronically generated at that point. We would write a new song for each show and our shows would be 15 minutes long.”
The One Song/One Show ethos is manifest in the tracks of Oracular Spectacular; each song on the album shimmers with its own diamond-hard compression of elements interconnecting within MGMT’s “unusual or unconventional pop structures.” Continually inverting expectations, the music of MGMT owes as much to chaos theory as it does to fractal geometry. In contrast to the group’s early live shows, which were mainly electronically generated, Oracular Spectacular is filled with “more traditional rock instruments: electric guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, synthesizers all played live.”
Restlessly experimental and consumed with divine discontent, the members of MGMT embarked on a series of temporary guises. “We went on a tour with a drummer once,” Andrew confesses, “after we’d written these weird California Creedence Clearwater-style songs in two weeks. We went out, played them, and never did the songs again. A lot of people hated it. That used to be the goal of our shows. We were still trying to be obnoxious and somehow people got into it. Some songs we wrote just because we wanted to learn how to be really bad within a certain genre and then people started liking the song because they liked the genre. It was an accident that people started liking us.”
Some of those first fans included a group of NYU students who formed an indie label, Cantora Records, in order to issue the very first MGMT commercial release, Time To Pretend (a 6-song EP, currently available on iTunes). Two of the songs from that EP – “Time To Pretend” (the MGMT “mission statement”) and “Kids” (“filled with all those college feelings: naivety, idealism, nostalgia, happiness, sadness”) – have made it on to Oracular Spectacular.
Following the release of the EP and a couple of one-month long tours, MGMT took six months off, with Andrew moving to Brooklyn for a post-college “existential crisis” and Ben hanging out in Connecticut before heading to upstate New York to work woodland construction.
Following their hiatus from MGMT, Ben and Andrew reconnoitered in Brooklyn and began recording new songs for the sheer fun of it on an “Mbox computer set-up.” Those humble home sessions – at once Apollonian and Dionysian – lay the groundwork for what would become Oracular Spectacular.
Oracular Spectacular opens with “Time To Pretend” (“fanciful but with an undercurrent of impending doom”) and closes with “Future Reflections” (“premonitions of a post-apocalyptic future where colonies of young people live on the beach and lead savage yet refined primitive lifestyles and go surfing”). In between lie the refractions of the “current chaotic vibrations of the world” on an album which distills the essence of the past, promises and portends the future, and offers an absorbing transformative experience between the molecules in the pulsations of the present. Not to mention an authentic “4th Dimensional Transition.”
“Kids are going to be inheriting their parents’ MP3 collections,” Ben predicts. “And, in that aesthetic, corrupted MP3 files will be like the way people glorify scratched-up records now. In 20 years, people will listen to these 30th generation MP3s and say, ‘I love that sound!’ ”
MGMT invites you to open your mind to the multi-dimensional vibrating Technicolor sounds of Oracular Spectacular.