Album Review: MGMT - Little Dark Age (Columbia)
A return to golden era MGMT with Little Dark Age.
It’s ten years on since the triumphant appearance of MGMT in the electro-pop world, but in that time, much has happened for the band. From the infectious hooks and memorable singles of their debut Oracular Spectacular, it wasn’t long before Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser had all eyes on them, hailing the duo as the next quasi-pop marvel. Now, half a decade since their last release, the psychedelic popsters seem determined to reclaim the crown with their latest offering. Little Dark Age follows a period of experimental records, most of which veered so far into zany art-rock experimentation that it was hard for anyone but a core fanbase to stay engaged. Little Dark Age hews closer to traditional pop structures, while still being left-field enough to qualify as an MGMT album
If VanWyngarden and Goldwasser’s goal was to make something as accessible as Oracular Spectacular while paying homage to their last two LP’s, Little Dark Age certainly achieves that with its concise songs and innocuous melodies. Tracks like 'Me' and 'Michael & James' which, apart from both including personal references in their title, lend themselves to the eighties-inspired idealism that drives the record. While there’s definitely been an overhaul of the MGMT sound, the band can’t seem to abandon that experimental side to them, heard on 'One Thing Left to Try'. The track swirls with an ethereal backdrop of synths, distorted guitars and heavily-pitched vocals just for good measure. It becomes apparent here, that the pair have learnt to fuse the warped influences of album two and three with their debut’s more amicable grooves.
Possibly the most intriguing aspect of the album is the thinly veiled rage surrounding it, as ambiguous as it may be. The title track embodies the eerie yet inviting sounds implemented throughout the record, while VanWyngarden forebodingly sings “I know that if you hide/It doesn't go away,” over it. 'When You Die' follows this up with starker cries of malaise, surrounding the soaring chorus with exclamations of “Go f*ck yourself” and other contemplations that feel indicative of this age
Just to cement that this is a contemporary album, there are songs of social consciousness and commentary in 'TSLAMP' and 'Days That Got Away,' complete with cutting lyrics about losing yourself in modern media. However, with the stylings, Little Age Dark lends itself to, the message is light-hearted and almost mocking. Even when, 'Time Spent Looking At My Phone' is shortened to the ungainly acronym TSLAMP it feels cynical. The same atmosphere applies to 'Days That Got Away,' as it presents itself as some sort of clumsy lament over lost time. As striking as this sentiment is, it is delivered on Little Dark Age with tongue in cheek, millennial irony.
After a few years of artistic obscurity, MGMT seemed to have done a complete 180 with Little Dark Age as they plant themselves firmly in the now, an inferred dystopian hellhole. For any other act, this would probably have the effect of appearing uninspired or insipid but with their own brand of conjured electronica, MGMT pull it off. Little Dark Age is a surprising but very welcome return to form from the duo.