With classic psychedelic synth jams like “Electric Feel” and “Time to Pretend,” MGMT set the bar high, but over the past ten years and two albums, they’ve been failing to reach it. That may all change with Little Dark Age.
Andrew VanWyngarden and Benjamin Goldwasser made their studio debut as MGMT back in 2007 with the indie hit Oracular Spectacular. Their second and third albums Congratulations and LateNightTales, respectively, took an unpopular artistic tangent that allowed similar artists like Tame Impala and Animal Collective to steal the psychedelic pop spotlight. Five years after their somewhat disappointing self titled album, MGMT’s latest project delivers a satisfying sound that is true to their earlier, socially conscious golden age days, but with a dark twist.
With production from Patrick Wimberly of Chairlift, and a collaboration from Ariel Pink’s Ariel Marcus Rosenberg, Little Dark Age sounds like the psych pop album for which faithful MGMT fans have been waiting. Satirical social commentaries are sprinkled throughout the album along with 80s-esque synth melodies and an array of creatively diverse samples that give the album an exotic sound.
Many songs in Little Dark Age carry an ominous, dark tone. Songs like “Little Dark Age” and “When You Die” use lyrics and grim synth melodies to portray these feelings. Echoed vocals, organ-like synth accents and deep melodic bass are what create doomed but groovy effect in “Little Dark Age.” “When You Die” juxtaposes dim lyrics such as, “ready to blow my brains out” and, “we’ll all be laughing with you when you die” with upbeat alt pop instrumentals, creating an overall edgy, but entertaining musical experience.
Regarding social commentary, VanWyngarden and Goldwasser make fun of the shallow dating culture that is prominent today with the first track of album, “She Works Out Too Much.” The fast-paced song, abundant with women’s workout video audio samples and heavy drum and bass, calls today’s dating scene “the shit show.” It attributes the end of relationships to shallow reasons, as is evident in the following lyric: “The only reason we didn’t work out is he didn’t work out enough.”
The duo continues this cultural critique with the song “TSLAMP,” or “Time Spent Looking at My Phone.” The name of the song says it all as the group explores their troubles with today’s dependency on our small screens. The Spanish-esque synth tune, which makes use of bongos, maracas and Latin acoustic guitar riffs, echoes this theme with the lyric, “You can never find the time if you spend everyday looking at your phone.”
MGMT’s pop comeback seemed to throw them back to the 80s. Some of the most pop-heavy songs like “Me and Michal” and “One Thing left to Try” sound as if they could be found in am 80s movie montage scene. Both songs feature repetitive, catchy choruses and driving, pulsing synth iconic to the time but are inevitably held back by the tacky aesthetic.
Though they are working with several moving parts and intersecting melodies, VanWyngarden and Goldwasser succeed at weaving them all together to create a diverse unified sound. “Days That Got Away” is a perfect example of this as it is mostly instrumental. The psychedelic groove track makes use of funky bass, calm drums, sporadic claps and synth elements that all together provide an enjoyable listening experience.
After producing a decade of content that left many fans frustrated, MGMT has responded with an album that satisfies their followers while staying true to their artistic evolution, putting them back in the forefront of psychedelic pop. Despite a few retro moments, Little Dark Age is bound to make both new and old listeners groove.