MGMT won the hearts of a generation when they released one of the most entertaining albums of the aughts, Oracular Spectacular. When the group came onto the scene, they mixed the sounds of the ever-ubiquitous alt-rock of the times, pop, electronic and psychedelia into a concoction that hadn’t been heard before. Hits like “Time to Pretend” and “Electric Feel” worked as the soundtrack for many people’s coming-of-age journeys. MGMT’s newest album, Little Dark Age is a reinvention of that sound — an expression of their evolution after more than a decade in the music industry flooded with unexpected change.
Where previous projects Oracular Spectacular and Congratulations were filled with peppiness and a naive anticipation for the future, Little Dark Age seems to trade those sentiments for their cynical counterparts. The album feels like a maturation beyond their once seemingly carefree views on life. MGMT explore the nuances of relationships — and how they sometimes end for frivolous reasons. They explore secrets so personal, they lead to isolation. They explore modern infatuation with phones. Little Dark Age is the album for those who listened to MGMT’s debut in their teens and have now worked through heartbreak, isolation and turmoil of all kinds.
Yet, despite Little Dark Age’s considerably darker lyrical content, it maintains a sense of optimism throughout. The instrumentation on the record is entrancing. The 80s-inspired synths echo throughout the tracks, giving them a sense of chaotic grandeur. Each track has a melody that latches onto the part of your brain where songs get stuck.
The opening track, “She Works Out Too Much” is exemplary of the humor found throughout the album. Making light of issues is how MGMT grapples with their issues. As the opener, the song is a bouncing collection of synths and drums as background for the hilarious back-and-forth chorus, “The only reason it never worked out was he didn’t work out/ She works out too much/ The only reason it didn’t work out was he didn’t work out enough/ He’s trying.” Musically, it sets the tone for the roller-coaster of instrumentals throughout the album. Lyrically, MGMT start to sow the seeds of change from their earliest work.
The title track is equally as entertaining, although more for its darkness than buoyancy. Oddly occult-ish, the meaning behind “Little Dark Age” is hard to decipher. With each listen, bits and pieces make more sense. It’s a puzzle waiting to be solved.
Continuing the energetic onslaught at the start of the album, “When You Die” mixes humor and sinister sentiments with an overwhelmingly joyful instrumental. After telling the subject of the song to “Go fuck yourself,” Andrew VanWyngarden sings, “Words won’t do anything/ It’s permanently night/ And I won’t feel anything/ We’ll all be laughing with you when you die.”
The album is a joy to listen to as it twists and turns through subjects and tempos. Ariel Pink’s inspiration shines through on “Me and Michael.” The instrumental track, “Days That Got Away,” sound like production that could easily fit within Toro Y Moi’s dreamworld from his latest album Boo Boo. “When You’re Small” sounds like a fusion of early Broken Bells synths with tidbits from MGMT’s Congratulations. Despite some of these similarities, MGMT put their own twist them, making their own world not dissimilar to a dimly-lit funhouse.
Little Dark Age doesn’t have an overarching story or concept driving it. Instead, it is a neatly structured album with a handful of tracks that share a very clear aesthetic. It’s digestible. As an album, it’s a calming listen that sounds just as good in the background as it does with full attention. There’s no filler — instead, each track builds onto the atmosphere that’s explored throughout the album. As their first album in five years, Little Dark Age is MGMT finally coming into their own in a world of music that would have been indescribable to them just a decade earlier.