MGMT have certainly made their mark on the world of indie music at this point, and they seem to be back in full force with Little Dark Age. The indietronica/synthpop veterans made names for themselves nearly 10 years ago with timeless singles like Kids, Electric Feel, and Time to Pretend off their widely acclaimed effort Oracular Spectacular. For a lot of us, these singles manage to feel like they just came out yesterday based on how often they show up on radio stations or in public places. They’ve released 3 projects since; despite none of them having really blown up the way Oracular Spectacular did, MGMT has been in the scene for a long time. Which means that among music nerds, this project was one of the most highly anticipated of 2018.
The singles leading up to it seemed to solidify its legitimacy for a lot of people. Two of the three slipped by me; I only listened to Hand it Over, which left me underwhelmed. Nevertheless, I heard from multiple people that the others were pretty rewarding. The hype made me expect to be blown away by the full-length version. My expectations may have been a little too high for their own good, but unfortunately the album didn’t keep me interested the way I wanted it to.
The opening track called She Works Out Too Much definitely threw me for a loop. The first time I heard it, I couldn’t figure out whether I passionately loved it or hated it. Since then I’ve come to at least appreciate that it’s anything but forgettable; its upbeat, synthpoppy production is so colorful & a total blast, and the ridiculous lyrics work in their context. Whether it’s meant to be satirical or not, they describe a failed relationship where the main problem is how often each member works out. Little Dark Age comes after it, which seems to have 80s new wave/electronic influence. Its dark, powerful kickdrum/bass and groovy synth textures make it an easy highlight of the record.
Despite its strong beginning, the album trails off to an entirely different sound after these two tracks. MGMT delves into dream-pop and psychedelic pop territory from here, making the end product’s flow feel somewhat awkward. Why are we getting washed-out mood music that reminds me of a less compelling mix between Tame Impala and HOMESHAKE after such an energetic and alluring start? Similar approaches to tracks like Me and Michael or TSLAMP have been pulled off more effectively elsewhere, which makes them feel forgettable.
Nevertheless, Little Dark Age isn’t entirely stripped of memorable moments past its kickoff. The attempted sound works in their favor sometimes; James’ combination between its shimmering synth line and reverb-heavy elements is gorgeous, for example. Its vocal performance is lower and more chilling than the others which effectively fits the song’s tone. Days That Got Away has this arrangement of twisted, short/glassy synths in the beginning which fades into dreamy/hazy and occasionally funky textures that I love. And the stripped-back nature of When You’re Small is pleasant; this and Hand it Over was a great conclusion to the record. My only problem with it is the lazily written lyrics; since there’s not much more in the song to pay attention to, they kind of take away from it.
A few more lyrical moments bothered me. I have no idea what the group was going for with When You Die (“I’m not that nice, I’m mean and I’m evil, go fuck yourself, you heard me right, don’t you have somewhere to be at 7:30”, wat.) They’re deliberately blunt, but I can’t figure out their intention for the life of me. Moreover, TSLAMP seemed out of place in its context. I have no problem with technology being a topic in songwriting, but this felt a little surface-level and thrown in for the sake of it. It’s an age-old topic that can’t really afford to be approached from this cliche an angle; all of it’s been said before.
Unfortunately, MGMT failed to impress me on Little Dark Age. Though some songs were a blast, its overall sound wasn’t really delivered in a way that’s lastingly impactful. I can’t help but feel like this approach has been pulled off more effectively elsewhere, and past a few tracks there isn’t much that’s begging me to return. Still, if you’re a stickler for indie/dream pop looking for something new to check out, it’s not a bad listen and it may hit you harder than it hit me.