It’s been 11 years since MGMT released their debut album Oracular Spectacular and dominated the indie-pop scene with huge hits like "Kids," "Time to Pretend," and "Electric Feel." It’s also been 11 years since MGMT has tried to distance themselves from the psych-pop hits that made them known in the first place. With Congratulations in 2010 and their self-titled in 2013, their fan-base has seemed to dwindle. MGMT didn’t want to make the music their fans and their label wanted them to. Call it creative control or just plain stubbornness, but they wanted to make music their way, no matter what their fans thought about it. But with Little Dark Age, Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser have finally found a middle ground. It’s obvious from the first 30 seconds of album opener "She Works Out Too Much" that this record is going to be different than anything they’ve ever done. It starts with a workout instructor counting us down and shouting “Are you ready to work out?!” What follows is a song about online dating fatigue. We hear how a fling didn’t work out due to her working out too much, and him not working out enough.
They’ve all but abandoned their mystical, shrouded lyrics that dominated their previous releases and replaced them with lyrics that are based in our reality, not one of aliens and monsters and references that go over your head. You’re able to understand what the songs are about on first listen. MGMT goes dark synth-pop with "Little Dark Age," followed by a darkly tongue-in-cheek song: "When You Die." This one explores the idea of pushing those away who want to help you when you’re dying, with lyrics like “Go fuck yourself / you heard me right / don’t call me nice again / don’t you have somewhere to be at seven thirty? / baby, I’m ready, I’m ready, ready, ready to blow my brains out.”
"Me and Michael" is the album standout for me, with an almost cheesy 80’s pop ballad about a relationship, or possibly a really close friendship. In the week leading up to the release of this final single, a cover of the unreleased song surfaced on YouTube by Filipino band No Faith with a music video, which threw MGMT fans (read: the internet) into a confused frenzy. Then an 80’s Russian synth cover of Me and Michael surfaced. As it turns out, it was all part of the plan. MGMT convinced these bands to cover their own unreleased song so they could release their own music video. Which, by the way, starts off with Andrew and Ben finding these "beautiful" songs online and "stealing" them. They go on to explore the obsession with smartphones that plagues modern society in "Tslamp." "James" is an adorable tribute to their friend named (you guessed it) James. The instrumental "Days That Got Away" is a nice chill-wave break before seeing MGMT go the most full-pop they've been since Oracular Spectacular on "One Thing Left To Try." A soaring synth-driven anthem, "One Thing" about not being ready to die with regrets: "I don't wanna die / wishing I'd done something / more than what's required / to last until the sunset."
Up next is "When You’re Small," a song that counters the phrase "the bigger you are the harder you fall" with the natural flipside: "when you’re small, you don’t have very far to fall." We finish off the album with "Hand It Over," an outing on par with the beauty of Congratulations closer "Congratulations." It's a microcosm of their career, the story that follows their growth and leads to the point in their lives where they felt they could make a record like this. It's the perfect way to end the album. It seems MGMT have finally found their sound again. It seems they’ll never be able to replicate the success of Oracular Spectacular unless they choose to fully "sell out." Songs like "Kids" and "Time To Pretend" were almost jokes to Andrew and Ben. They wanted to write the pop anthems they thought would be fun for the college parties they played at. They never expected the success it led to, and have been fighting against what made them successful. Until now, that is. It seems that MGMT’s 10-year Little Dark Age is over.
For fans of: Tame Impala, Ariel Pink, smartphone obsessions and people yelling about them Our take: Beautiful, strange, and funny all at the same time. MGMT found a way to combine their best attributes on this album.