Little Dark Age by MGMTRelease date: February 9, 2018
Label: Columbia Records
In 2008 MGMT released their dazzlingly successful debut record, Oracular Spectacular. The electronic indie pop singles ‘Time To Pretend’ and ‘Electric Feel’ were burnt onto the iPod of every noughties teenager, standing out favourably in the indie landfill era. Unfortunately the band felt compromised by the way they had penetrated the mainstream. ‘Kids’, a song they were rumoured to have not wanted on the album, was topping the charts. Less focus was being placed on the second half of their debut which hinted towards a freakier 1960s psychedelia inspired sound. They planned to establish this more obscure approach on their follow up record.
2010’s Congratulations received a mixed response. Whilst it had plenty of promise, its ambitious effort to create a mixture of popular and experimental music resulted in a release which lacked clear focus. MGMT’s decision to ditch the anthemic sounds which made them famous was panned by most fans. Three years later even their most hard core devotees abandoned them after the release of their self-titled third LP, which was universally considered a muddy sounding mess. Considering this trajectory, it is surprising that 2018 has seen the release of their best album to date.
Little Dark Age takes the most promising and frivolous elements of Congratulations and turns them into fully realised, sophisticated pop songs. This is in part thanks to the influence of collaborating artist Ariel Pink. Despite him only having performing and writing credits on two of the lead singles, the majority of this release sees MGMT adopt Ariel’s very particular lo-fi take on glam rock and synth pop. They play with Pet Shop Boys style synth pop tropes but twist and modernise them creating a satisfying cognitive dissonance. There are plenty of poppy hooks but it’s a far cry from a mainstream record.
The lyrics on this release are consistently inspired. ‘She Works Out Too Much’ is a great example of this, it hilariously explores a fictional relationship which breaks down due to a couple’s differing stances on exercise, “the only reason it never worked out is he didn’t work out enough”. Light hearted humour is typical for MGMT, but it has never had this level of clarity.
Whilst this record will most likely not be a chart success I am certain it will gain some much deserved attention. MGMT have recaptured what was good about their debut release without giving up the quirky, awkward flavours they have chased for the last decade. Little Dark Age is their first wholly cohesive record and a rare success story in a world where musicians seldom rediscover their voice after losing it. My only criticism of this release is that it at times feels too similar to Ariel Pink’s trademark kooky and endearing style.
The lyrics to ‘One Thing Left To Try’ could act as a manifesto for the all new MGMT, “I don’t want to die, wishing I’d done something, more than what’s required, to last until the sunset”. If MGMT were looking for a new purpose and wanted to wow people again, I think they’ve achieved that.