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Friday, January 9, 2009

Top 10 Albums of 2008: #1

MGMT
Oracular Spectacular

My first encounter with MGMT (pronounced, and still at that time known as, "The Management"), was four years ago, when they opened for Of Montreal at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. At the time, the acid-drenched duo were not much more than just that. They came out on stage in bathrobes with beers in both hands and proceeded to subject us to one of the messiest presentations of some of the worst electro-pop I had ever heard. They were a disaster, finding themselves far funnier than any of the crowd did and not noticing in the slightest that none of us knew exactly what to make of them. I took a brief video with my digital camera just to show people how horrible it all was, because I knew no one would believe me.

So when their second album, Oracular Spectacular was released early this year, I avoided it at all costs. Until a friend that had been at the Warhol show (and felt the exact same way about Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden's performance that I had) suggested I give it a listen. She explained that they had put together a full band and found a sound--and one that I'd probably like at that. She was right. I couldn't love this album more, and I really have to hand it to the boys, they really surprised me here.

Oracular Spectacular, with its singles-ready tracklisting (everything from "Fated to Pretend" to "Electric Feel" to the brilliant party-ender "Kids" is written in pure gold) is exactly the opposite of what Midnight Juggernauts represents at the opposite end of my countdown. This album is not piggybacking on any trends, it is a creation of something completely individual and downright fun. There are comparisons to be made, of course (the leading one to former tour-mates, Of Montreal), but MGMT manages to make even Kevin Barnes and his merry band of psychos seem bloated and overblown. Unlike Of Montreal's Skeletal Lamping this year, with its schizo time signatures and disjointed melodies, MGMT does not try to pack seventeen vastly different songs into each three minute block. They are, instead, quite satisfied with one song per song. And that's an approach I can appreciate.

The simplicity is key here--every song is a warbly sing-a-long and every beat is a burner on the dance floor. They also are each epic in their own way, either with "Time to Pretend" and its almost enlightening chorus, or with "Kids" and the emotional weight the chord progression holds, firmly placing it as The Last Song of the Night. The psychadelic nature of Oracular Spectacular does not pull the album apart at its seams, it just makes it an interesting take on an upbeat booty-shaker. I can't speak for what their live show is like now (I imagine that the boys can afford more acid than ever, so they might still be disastrous on stage for all I know), but at least they've got solid footing to begin on. This album is truly a wonder, a masterpiece of pop music that has already taken hold across the world. In Australia, the album hit number one on their national charts, and while I was in New Zealand, the video for "Electric Feel" was on TV every hour (and looking strangely like that Crazy Town video from way back when meets Lord of the Rings). I didn't even know they had a video until I saw it on TV down there! And yet, here in America, their own hometown, they are a speck of dust on the grand Pop Music Machine that pumps out Rihannas as fast as the Hostess Company can pump out Twinkies. And neither is very good for you.

I can only hope that MGMT gets their due in years to come. So long as Ben and Andy don't crash and burn before their time, they've got a good thing going finally and I can't wait to hear more from them. Thank you guys, for producing my favorite album of the year.

MGMT - Electric Feel

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