Psychedelic pop purveyors MGMT have ridden a rollercoaster of sorts, from the peaks of snagging Grammy nominations and trophies to the lows of the sophomore jinx and a popularity slump that followed. Many including the band believe the reason for their turn in fortunes was due to the band releasing albums that were more experimental and deemed less accessible, running counter to what drew fans and critics to their cause. Their latest release, ” Little Dark Age” looks to correct course. They have returned to form once again displaying their knack for fantastic musical hooks and more focused lyrics.
MGMT’s Little Dark Age is their fourth studio release and was a departure from band members Andrew Van Wyngarden and Ben Goldwasser’s typical recording style. Since their last album, the pair has relocated to different parts of the country. When they initially began to work on the new album it was done by long distance via e-mail. Little Dark Age was produced with by Van Wyngarden, Goldwasser, Patrick Wimberly, and David Fridmann. It was recorded in LA, Brooklyn, NY and Cassadaga NY. This album looks to reinvigorate MGMT’s fortunes returning to their salad days and correcting the downward trajectory their career seemed to be taking. The new album displays a band that has returned to their inspired mix of exuberance and ennui.
Little Dark Age finds its creators expressing dismay and surprise at our current political situation and social climate. Throughout the recording, MGMT utilizes all their skills working in pop hookiness expressing it in synth, psychedelic and electronic pop. The album opens with She Works Out Too Much a wry observational track that examines our tech device/dating app world. It is whimsical and wonky being everything one expects from MGMT. The selection is informed by a serious dose of 80’s synth pop. The title track, Little Dark Age refers not only to the physical distance between the band members but also to the seemingly darker and scarier political landscape. On the track, MGMT blends flashes of Gary Numan circa “In Cars”, Devo and some nicely tinged Goth to make it my favourite track on the release. Other high points are Me and Michael which is a tribute to all those 80’s John Hughes soundtracks with a sleek expansive synth sound. Additionally, the track TSLAMP displays an apt mixture of pulled around synths, funk beat and earnest lyrics. The theme speaks to our preoccupation with all our technological devices. James is a stellar track that is a tribute to the band’s touring guitarist James Richardson and is dedicated to him. The song is a celebration of the friendship that the band members share and is a disco-inspired pop jaunt filled with an energetic crystalline sonic.
The final two tracks, When You’re Small and Hand it Over are also of note. The first track When You’re Small is a stripped down ballad with hints of Alice in Wonderland psychedelia. Hand it Over displays that even in 2018 Chill Wave lives with an iceberg cool selection that is an apt sign-off and homage to MGMT’s prior works.
Throughout Little Dark Age there is a constant alluring tension between the vintage synths that lull the listener into a comforting space and the insightful lyrical themes. Those themes point out that certainties are dissolving in our world and that we need to strap on our seatbelts preparing ourselves for the bumpy ride that is coming next. It is good to see MGMT return to what they do best, weaving majestic, gigantic musical tunes that are filled with pop goodness. Hopefully, there is still a space in the Alternative genre for the quirky pop that MGMT generates because this album evinces they have a singular ability to do it well. If you liked MGMT’s debut you will enjoy Little Dark Age.