Album Review: MGMT, “Little Dark Age”

By: Emma Wittmann, Photo via pitchfork.com

Five years after the release of their self-titled album, psychedelic pop/rock band MGMT followed up with their fourth LP, Little Dark Age. Duo Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser began releasing music over a decade ago and have established a large fan base, particularly from their first two albums, Oracular Spectacular and Congratulations. Little Dark Age explores a new cynical side of the band different from all the band’s previous work, but returns to their catchy hooks from their early albums in songs like “Little Dark Age,” “When You Die,” and “Me and Michael.” The darkness adds an edge to the synth-pop album, on both lyrical and sonic levels. Although still complex, it is less overblown than their previous work giving the album a dreamy quality.

Little Dark Age.jpgThere’s a duality to “Little Dark Age.” Part of the album is vocal heavy and radio friendly, sporting addictive choruses. The opening track, “She Works Out Too Much,” is an example of this, dripping in 80’s pop influence and a hint of J-pop style. Other songs are instrument driven such as “Days That Got Away,” or simply have less emphasis on vocals and focus on creating an atmosphere with the music. This album experiments with sound in ways MGMT hasn’t tried before. In addition to the album’s new gothic element, the song “TSLAMP” has some Caribbean vibes. Exciting instruments and styles are being weaned into the band’s music including saxophone and Latin guitar playing.

MGMT has always had dark lyrics on their albums that were sneakily disguised by cheerful tunes. As the title of the album suggests, the somber themes are obvious on Little Dark Age. The title track transparently deals with VanWyngarden’s experience with his inner demons and the self-loathing protagonist in “When You Die” explains his nihilistic thought process. The topic is serious, but in this case, the informal, crude language indicates a casual attitude toward the subject: death. The artists’ negative stances on technology make a cameo in “She Works Out Too Much” (“Sick of liking your selfies”) and is directly addressed in “TSLAMP,” a song about people’s inability to detach themselves from their phones. Despite all the doom and gloom of the album, the songs concerning friendship are sensitive and uplifting. The song, “James” is dedicated MGMT’s live band guitarist and “Me and Michael” is a story of a passionate, almost romantic friendship.

“Little Dark Age” was not only a step back in the right direction from MGMT’s previous album, but while incorporating the elements of their first two albums that attracted fans in the beginning, the album embraced a risky element of MGMT that comes across as honest and complicated.

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