by Angela Levitan and Ezra Hecht
Little Dark Age is the fourth studio album from MGMT and their first release in 5 years. This new record is MGMT’s synth-driven return to the world of indie, which has changed significantly since their last release, 2013’s MGMT. The two albums that followed their stardom launching debut, Oracular Spectacular, tended to be underwhelming compared to the infectious exuberance of the 2007 debut. With Little Dark Age, MGMT, needed to rediscover the verve that made songs like Kids and Electric Feel such classics of the early 2000s. We have contradicting opinions on this album so we are going to give two separate reviews.
Angela: In my opinion, Little Dark Age is a seamless, toned down comeback for MGMT. There is still a dark underlying theme that their previous albums possessed but with Little Dark Age it is more refined, more focused on what it wants to accomplish. Unlike some of their earlier records, every track is hooky and not buried as much underneath excessive experimental arrangements. Little Dark Age is an airy, nostalgic album that I truly enjoy listening to and maybe even dancing around my room to. Now I will highlight my favorite tracks from the album:
Little Dark Age opens with “She Works Out Too Much”, which was immediately one of my favorites on the record and is melodically a new turn for MGMT. This track is laced with a great funky bass line that consistently carries the progression of the song. The lyrics go back and forth between a female voice who seems to be a workout instructor actively encouraging her audience and a male voice who feels discouraged and depressed. The female vocals, when played directly before and after the main male vocals, are almost making a mockery out of the gloomy male narrative within the song. “She Works Out Too Much” introduces Little Dark Age’s synth-pop sound right off the bat.
“When You Die” is the next track that I will be discussing. The fact that this was co-written by Ariel Pink who also plays guitar on the song, makes a lot of sense due to its hallucinatory, psychedelic timbre. What I really like about this track are the condescending, angsty phrasing from the vocals and the eerie production which both coincide with the dark undertone of the whole album.
The last song that really stuck out for me is “Me and Michael”, the fourth single off of Little Dark Age. This track is a buoyant, 80s infused pop song that could easily have been on any John Hughes soundtrack. I have found that “Me and Michael” tends to get stuck in my head more than any other song at the moment, which is both good and bad. Some other notable tracks on this record are “Little Dark Age”, “James”, and “Hand It Over.”
Ezra: MGMT’s new album Little Dark Age takes them on a path that strays away from what attracted me to them in the first place. 2007’s Oracular Spectacular embraced weirdness at every turn, wearing its influences on its sleeve yet crafting a sound that pop music hadn’t heard since Love’s Forever Changes. MGMT’s early work crafted a sense of mystery and bizarreness, inviting listeners to explore each and every song. With their sophomore effort Congratulations, MGMT continued to expand on the sounds of their influences, drawing inspiration from the Soft Machine, Jefferson Airplane, and others, while still paying tribute to the early 2000s pop music that brought them their fame. With their self-titled album released in 2013, MGMT stuck to their formula, albeit with much less interesting results. However, this year’s album completely jettisons the psychedelic mystique and oddball catchiness of their previous 3 records in favor of more straightforward synth pop a la bands like Phantogram or even the Killers.
While I enjoyed the catchy, straightforward pop hooks and electronic beats of songs such as “Me and Michael” and “She Works Out Too Much,” I found the album as a whole to be relatively weak compared to their previous releases. This is not to say that it is without high points. The ballad “When You’re Small” is both charming as beautiful, and hearkens back to the greatness that this band has, and certainly will again, achieve.