Everything about MGMT's second album is counterintuitive. The album art is weird, a cross between rejected cover art for an early-'90s Sega Genesis game and a DayGlo surfing poster from a head shop. Stylistically, it's a retrospective record whose fealty lies with '60s California pop, classic surf music and late-period Beatles.
Oracular Spectacular is one of the past decade's best and most important albums. Part of what's so charming about MGMT is how hard it is to peg them. If that first album belongs to a genre at all, let's call it "electro-referential," an au courant mode in which a marzipan coating of club beats and retro synths is filigreed over a vast array of styles, from psychedelia to folk to disco to lounge.
Congratulations opens with "It's Working," partly Brill Building girl-pop, partly the shoegaze fuzz of, say, Lush. There's a thrumming post-punk bass, tinny harpsichord and, I'd swear, a flute. Next comes "Song for Dan Treacy," an ode to the Television Personalities frontman that's all '60s mod, channeling teensploitation movies as much as the late '70s arty sass of the Personalities.
From there, we're off, as MGMT almost entirely avoids their debut's clubby enthusiasm, instead narrating a wistful psych-pop walking tour that's more synthesis than synth-pop. They're wearing their influences on their sleeves, with songs about Treacy, electronica pioneer Brian Eno and even—either sarcastically or admiringly, or both—Lady Gaga (or a bizarro version of her, called Lady Dada).