Album Review: MGMT – Little Dark Age
In 2007, bandmates Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser released their debut MGMT album Oracular Spectacular to critical and commercial success. It spawned numerous synthpop hits such as “Kids” and “Electric Feel”, which dominated the radio waves for months. Years of extensive touring and two moderately received albums after, the band is back with their newest effort, the fittingly titled Little Dark Age. Does it compare to Oracular Spectacular, or is it another disappointment like their previously self-titled record?
Little Dark Age begins with lead track, “She Works Out Too Much.” The acidic, 60’s era psychological references that MGMT fans have come to love are gone. Instead, the duo has traded those in for flat out synthpop. From the get-go, your ears are treated to 80’s-esque synthesizers and a pulsating bass-line reminiscent of that DX7 bass sound we’ve all come to love from nearly every 80’s hit. It’s a dissonant, strange track that narrates the modern age technological battles we have with our significant others, specifically about gym memberships. It’s a ridiculous track, swathed with jazzy chords, a funky bassline, and an eerie narrator straight out of a VHS workout tape. What isn’t gone is MGMT’s knack for writing pop bangers with dark undertones, something that MGMT fans have come to love over their last three albums. VanWyngarden vocals sound as excellent as always, with his fleeting falsetto breezing over the synths.
What follows next is the synth-heavy title track, “Little Dark Age.” It’s not the danceable pop tune you’d except from MGMT. In fact, it’s a complete 180 from what you would think the band is capable of. However, it’s one of the bands finest work to date, filled with dissonant chords, a descending bassline, and vocals so heavily processed that it’s nearly impossible to understand them. What makes the track so interesting is the contrast between the lively atmosphere and the lyrics, which are tinged with suicidal urges. While the first tracks off the album are excellent, the hidden gems come halfway through with “Me and Michael” and “TSLAMP.” The former is the best track off the album, and the most listener friendly. It’s a blatant ode to 80’s pop, and a fantastic one at that. The latter, actually named “Time Spent Looking at My Phone” (which, by the way, MGMT are not a fan of), is another infectious 80’s-esque track filled with dissonant, vintage synthesizers and numerous vocoders pulled straight from Random Access Memories.
The last quarter of the album takes the tempo down drastically, with “Days That Got Away.” It’s a nearly five-minute-long instrumental, a perfect transition to the last few tracks off the album. If you’re looking for the one track most reminiscent of Oracular Spectacular, “One Thing Left to Try” is the one. It’s still filled with the vintage synthesizers and groovy basslines, just like the rest of Little Dark Age. However, the track has the radio-friendly timbre that listeners have come to expect from MGMT. Album closer “Hand It Over” is a downtempo, falsetto-ridden track with nearly incomprehensible lyrics. VanWyngarden softly sings to you, almost whispering his lyrics. The lyrics are fitting, with VanWyngarden crooning, “The joke’s worn thin, the king stepped in.” Can you guess what the song is about? No? It’s about Donald Trump, as stated by VanWyngarden in an interview with Rolling Stone.
If you came expecting an album to play on repeat at your summer frat parties, this isn’t the one. Little Dark Age is a heavily politically inspired record about losing control, a perfectly apposite theme for the current age. It’s happy, it’s depressing, but most importantly, it’s the best work MGMT has released in years. 80’s pop tunes are riddled with dark undertones about suicide and free-fall. For a second, you might actually feel cheerful yelling “I’m gonna eat your heart out!” at the top of your lungs.
By Adam Uscilowicz