MGMT ‘Little Dark Age’

Little Dark Age, the latest offering from MGMT, has me swishing its vintage pop flavor around in my mouth, trying to determine whether it’s a carefully blended composition or just a mishmash of whimsical synth sounds on my tongue. The album opens at a brisk jog, with the aptly titled “She Works Out Too Much.” This happy tune feels like a commentary on the domineering, invasive nature of the information age and its stranglehold on the human spirit. Social media and toxic public profiling are not “Working Out” according to Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden. MGMT confidently puts their best foot forward here by crafting songs that they want to play, all the while resisting the urge to appeal to the status quo. They make it crystal clear that it is worth stepping on toes to achieve artistic freedom. For a band that was never “trying to start a band” these two have come full circle in their career, back to a place where the original sound came from: a mutual love for sappy, synth-pop beats and oozy vocals laced with sarcasm.

“TSLAMP” (“Time Spent Looking at my Phone”) is a candidate for the opening credits of a Black Mirror episode. It is exactly what one might expect from the title. The cheesy synth tones and Caribbean cadence of this track produces a haunting effect, almost transporting listeners into some grotesque nightmare world in which Gloria Estefan sings “the rhythm is gonna get you, the rhythm is gonna get you.” The songs closes on a cold, ominous note: “You’ll come back to me again, you can go ahead and stop pretending.” In reaffirming their pop prowess MGMT also manages to dial back the cynicism enough to indulge in their sticky-sweet, mellow pop inclinations. The dreamy echoes and chill beats of “Hand it Over” are almost E.L.O.-level swoon material. This song, like much of the album, approaches the line of derivation without crossing over. One can taste nostalgia in the subtle allusions to The Cure, The Growlers, Lost Sounds, and Yelle while listening. Planting the seeds of their influences is a deft maneuver that dedicated fans and newcomers alike will appreciate. Despite MGMT’s quaffable pop ethos, there remains an unmistakable defiance to this album that permeates the substrate. Like a good hangover, the title track is dark and foreboding. It’s the kind of hangover where you wake up hazy, crude, and taking no flack. Though not always explicitly stated, one cannot help but feel that every aching moment of this hangover was inspired by current events.

Little Dark Age marks MGMT’s proper return to a more pop-centric sound, albeit with a cheesy, pseudo-satirical aftertaste. They have sidestepped the abstract for a more straightforward delivery. There is a certain intellectual charm in applying a vacuous soundtrack to the very real and consequential events in our lives, especially when using those very circumstances to chide our complicity. Goldwasser and VanWyngarden pull fewer punches than ever on this release, favoring a more sinister and homespun brand of pop. Perhaps this approach will deter more easygoing listeners, but I think it speaks volumes about MGMT’s artistic sensibility. Having achieved a certain level of success, it is difficult for an artist to make the music that they want to make instead of the music that is expected of them—that sort of business is best left to the DJ anyway—MGMT continues to defy expectations in pioneering one of the salient waves of music ushering us through uncertain times. You don’t have to blow your paycheck on top shelf vintage to entertain guests or drown your sorrows. Three buck chuck always pairs well with anything bleak and sullen, so I would personally recommend this rot gut 2018 Musiq Noir. 

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Ryan Lott


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