Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser weren’t so obviously ahead of the curve when the duo’s debut album as MGMT arrived 11 years ago. Maybe that’s because their wild, baffling, possibly culturally insensitive hipster-shaman look on the cover of Oracular Spectacular seemed more suggestive of the “spectacle” component of their cryptic title rather than a reference to the Oracle of Delphi or any other seers of ancient times.
Nevertheless, few could’ve known how prescient they turned out to be when it came to heralding the dippy, woozy aesthetic of so much music from this past decade. Likewise, recent singles like the mesmerizing, darkly witty “When You Die” (from their upcoming fourth album, Little Dark Age) arrive into a rather more crowded field of freaky, dreamy pop oddballs than either of them could’ve anticipated back when “Electric Feel” was everywhere in 2007. With equally ubiquitous early singles like “Time to Pretend,” the duo crafted a canny merger of elements that felt modern and retro at once. Along with fellow travelers like Ariel Pink, MGMT popularized a lo-fi take on psychedelia that soon begat terms like “chillwave” and “hypnagogic pop.” Yet they were also remarkably astute about their music’s potential chart appeal——perhaps more so than they would’ve liked, seeing as VanWyngarden and Goldwasser would famously retreat from the spotlight and dive into more willfully obtuse sounds for 2010’s Congratulations and 2013’s MGMT, the pair’s subsequent and far less commercially successful albums.
As the original articles were content to return to the fringes, many more artists would come to frolic in the Day-Glo-colored playground they built with Oracular Spectacular. Some——like Foster the People, Passion Pit, and fun.——would have fewer reservations about using these previously subterranean strategies and textures to create ear candy with mass appeal. The likes of Portugal. The Man, Two Door Cinema Club, and Neon Indian felt just as free to get their respective electric feels on. Meanwhile, Tame Impala, Temples, and other retro-renegades would continue their own MGMT-like exercises in temporal displacement, jumbling together ‘60s, ‘80s, and ‘00s aesthetics to create psych-pop that belonged to no age in particular. And there’s been no lack of shimmering, sun-kissed pop slathered in vintage synths and analog effects thanks to Mac DeMarco, who collaborated with VanWyngarden on some thus-far unreleased recordings in 2016. Indeed, there may be a whole new generation of MGMT devotees judging by the off-kilter yet eminently catchy sounds favored by teenage sensations like Cuco, Superorganism, and Cosmo Pyke.
So were those two luridly attired loons on the cover of Oracular Spectacular looking into the future all along? It’s impossible to say, but this playlist featuring the many inhabitants of MGMT’s musical universe might’ve made them the envy of Nostradamus.