By Zac Cahill
The story of MGMT up to this point is not a new one in indie. Beginning with massive hits such as “Electric Feel” and “Kids,” MGMT’s first album “Oracular Spectacular” catapulted them to stardom and made them instant indie-pop darlings. Their songs were fun and catchy, driven by melodic synths and endless earworm hooks.
The band did not, however, continue down this route. Their subsequent two albums: “Congratulations” in 2010 (which I love) and a self-titled project in 2013 (which felt to me like a misstep) were steeped in more psychedelic, difficult sounds. As their sound became more difficult, many fans also found it more difficult to, you know, be a fan.
I myself found it doubtful that I would be interested in a new MGMT album in 2018. Like many others, I had written them off as a band who had made music that I liked in high school – I hadn’t returned to much of their material for well over a year or so, and didn’t even plan on checking out “Little Dark Age” until a friend recommended it to me.
I’m very glad that he did. “Little Dark Age” is not just a welcome, much-needed reinvention of the once-lauded group, it also contains their best material to date. In some ways, it is a return to form – the album’s sounds are steeped with some of the same synth pop sounds that made their earlier songs successful – though the album’s aesthetic and soundscape are definitely a first for the band.
The music of “Little Dark Age” is a melding of the sort of odd songwriting that has defined MGMT throughout their career with confident, smooth pop. Sounding at times a dreamier New Order meets Ariel Pink (who has co-writing credits on a couple tracks), and at times channeling a dark, subdued vibe all their own – the album is a success.
There’s the opening track: “She Works Out Too Much,” a freewheeling and bittersweetly funny tune about a relationship not working out due to differing commitments to physical fitness – it’s an unpredictable, perfectly fitting opener (and it contains the great lyric: “the only reason we never worked out was we didn’t work out enough,” which is a major plus).
The title track is by far the best pop song the duo has ever written. It’s an insanely danceable song, gothic and filled to the brim with bass synths, lyrically cryptic and yet demanding to be chanted – an instant classic for the group.
The majority of the album is solidly excellent, with songs such as “Me and Michael” and “James” are highlights (the former being a definite favorite of mine), featuring some of the most bright and nostalgic (both in subject matter and style of pop) sounds on the album. “When You Die” and “TSLAMP” (which stands for Time Spent Looking At My Phone) are decidedly darker but no less fun to listen to.
Late album cut “One Thing Left to Try,” on the other hand, is starry-eyed and unapologetically 80’s dance, but all its energy clutters the song more than it serves it. Next, the second-to-last track “When You’re Small” is MGMT doing their best Pink Floyd (though I can’t deny that it’s a flattering impression).
Despite this, there isn’t a bad song on the album. It is a collection of solid, at times great (not to mention downright fun) songs – a surprising, yet welcome offering from a band I never knew I wanted to “get good again.”