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MGMT- Oracular Spectacular (Album Review)

The band’s first performance should have been a sign. While they were students at Wesleyan University, Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser debuted as MGMT at a dorm party in 2002 with a set that consisted solely of them playing the theme to “Ghostbusters,” over and over.

As entertaining, or abrasive, as that must have been, the electro-rock duo (the name is pronounced “The Management”) has since moved to Brooklyn and broadened its repertoire. Yet the irreverence remains undiluted on MGMT’s full-length debut, along with a surprising dark streak at odds with the jittery, candy-colored synthesizers and throbbing beats sweeping through “Oracular Spectacular.” (The album is available now through digital retailers; the CD will be in stores Jan. 22.)

It’s clear right away how much the pair relishes the role of provocateur. “Time to Pretend” opens the album with a sardonic embrace of rock-star cliches — supermodel wives, drug habits, island vacation homes — depicted as the inevitable consequence of being so awesome: “Yeah, it’s overwhelming, but what else can we do? Get jobs in offices and wake up for the morning commute?” Perish the thought.

It’s also clear that MGMT’s ambitions have grown beyond putting on the most obnoxious live performance possible. The songs on “Oracular Spectacular” are considered and carefully constructed, and as a result, they’re taut, hooky and highly danceable, in a hipster-dance-party kind of way. Soft-rock keyboards flutter around a punchy round bass line on “Electric Feel” as VanWyngarden and Goldwasser sing in falsetto, and spare acoustic guitar frames reverberating vocals on “Pieces of What,” which is either a heartfelt attempt at soul searching or a dead-on parody of earnest folk-rockers.

It’s probably a parody, given the apocalyptic histrionics of album closer “Future Reflections,” but you can’t be certain. In fact, that’s part of the knotty genius of “Oracular Spectacular”: By never defining the joke, or even acknowledging there is a joke, MGMT keeps you guessing while it keeps you bopping.