January 22, 2018 marks ten years since the first physical release of MGMT’s beloved debut album Oracular Spectacular. The album is forty minutes of bright, shimmering adolescence, permanently immortalized in pop culture by three massive singles – “Time to Pretend,” “Electric Feel,” and “Kids” (the third of which the band would famously omit from their live shows). “Kids,” especially, was inescapable in the first few months following the album’s release – it played seemingly on loop at coffee shops, on TV commercials, in dance clubs, at festivals, and on MTV (back when it still played the very occasional music video). Hell, Joanna Newsom was in the music video and I still want to know what they did to make that baby cry so hard on camera (forget the Nirvana baby, I want a “Where Are You Now” of the “Kids” kid). Oracular Spectacular is the cornerstone of 2000’s psych-influenced indie synth-pop; it defined and brought mainstream appeal to a unique musical niche alongside contemporaries like Yeasayer, Neon Indian, and The Knife. Oracular Spectacular was perfect fuel for the explosion of indie pop/rock in mid-to-late 00’s that gushed, then trickled, into the 10’s. And yet, even though it plays like the rare perfect pop record, I doubt Oracular Spectacular would find the same mainstream success today as it did in 2008. Music has changed, but the way it makes us feel has not.
A lot of the appeal of Oracular Spectacular comes from the fact that it sounds bigger than it really is. Dave Fridmann’s spacey production gives the Oracular Spectacular an arena-like feel – and while the tracks can easily be consumed alone, they sound especially robust when played in a crowd. No matter where you hear them, the songs of Oracular Spectacular will take you to the same place: into the heart of an innocent, hopeful teenager, lost in his or her big dreams of the future. Understandably, that youthful optimism was the zeitgeist of 2008 – the year of Obama’s election and Britney’s post-“meltdown” comeback. Ten years on, it is comforting to hear something so uncorrupted by Trumpism and the cruelty of adulthood. In “The Youth,” MGMT try and prepare us for this shift that comes with growing older, growing aware: “In a couple of years / tides have turned from booze to tears … the youth are starting to change / are you starting to change?” I wish that I had taken those lyrics closer to heart when I first listened to them.
Oracular Spectacular was ultimately followed by two equally impressive follow-up albums, 2010’s Congratulations and 2013’s MGMT. While a departure from the band’s sugary pop hooks may have yielded less airplay for these later albums’ tracks, the records showcase mature, nuanced craftmanship and songwriting that is absent from the band’s fresh-out-of-college debut. Of course, that is not to discredit the exceptional sound and lyricism of Oracular Spectacular – Rolling Stone named it the 18th best album of the 00’s decade (right in front of White Blood Cells and just behind Stankonia). On February 9, MGMT promise us their fourth full-length album, Little Dark Age, which has thus far teased a return to the lush, electro-pop/psych sounds of Oracular Spectacular – but paired with the lyrical complexity of the band’s later releases. As we look toward the future of music and beyond, we will always hold with us the childlike wonder and optimism of Oracular Spectacular. And when we need to look to the not-so-distant past, we will always have Oracular Spectacular to take us there – ten years later.
Stream and buy Oracular Spectacular at all the usual places – you know the drill.
Words by Megan.