MGMT’s Little Dark Age was one of my most anticipated albums in 2018.
Like many people of my generation, I grew up listening to MGMT and their super catchy Oracular Spectacular, an album which I truly believe to have achieved success by accident. A band who saw themselves as an art collective and whose ethos was experimental 1960s-inspired psychedelic rock suddenly found themselves in the spotlight. Even though their own lyrics directly mocked the mainstream lifestyle, songs like Time to Pretend and Kids became anthems of the decade, and MGMT became a household name.
Since then, they have released the amazing psych-pop-infused Congratulations, their 2010 album that marked an obvious return to a more experimental and progressive approach. During this period the band explored their 1960s influences, but their work ultimately lacked the catchy tunes that made their debut so accessible to the public.
Their self-titled third album released in 2013 was a project I found to be bereft of ideas. It appeared as though MGMT was lost and not entirely sure of what to do next. By this point most of their fans had lost interest and their foray into experimental styles had left them in limbo.
MGMT’s decline coincided with a general movement away from their electro pop-inspired, colourful indie and psych pop that had dominated the late 2000s. It was unclear whether MGMT would ever be able to pull themselves out of this oblivion.
Personally, I was not expecting a return.
However, towards the end of 2017, MGMT started to tease new tracks like Little Dark Age and When You Die, which were a breath of fresh air.
Both tracks feature upbeat keyboard melodies that pose a stark contrast to the somber and even morbid subject matter. Instantly, you can hear a hint of the pop accessibility and catchy hooks which once made Oracular Spectacular such a sensation. They seem to have abandoned settling on a specific approach and are letting their music do the talking.
Little Dark Age
Even though there is a lot of their past influence in this new album, the band still seems adamant about retaining their freedom from a unified style. The album itself is far from an attempt to return to commercial success; they seem to be casually addressing their doubters on the song When You Die with a ridiculously catchy hook, repeating, “Go fuck yourself.”
On the other hand, songs like Me and Michael and James are both odes to 1980s electro-pop and feature synths that are simply gorgeous. The former, a song about love and friendship, is easily the best track on the album with its dreamy, hallucinogenic melody.
Me and Michael
MGMT’s carefree approach to their new album is further evidenced by the ease with which they switch between themes. The rather goofy opener She Works Out Too Much, that talks about a couple breaking up due to the man’s lack of a gym membership, is followed up by Little Dark Age, a song about depression and the contemporary dark age we are all living in.
One of the biggest compliments I can give this album is how well it holds together in a coherent structure. With songs that switch between genres and themes, MGMT has managed to retain a fluid coherency. Not every track is perfect, but each one of them seems to play an important role in MGMT’s vision.
Honestly, I have little to nitpick about this new album. My biggest grievance is that some tracks towards the end of the album, like Days That Got Away, fall a bit flat. Especially while listening to tracks individually, I found the songs to be rather stale and by far their weakest effort.
Not everyone will enjoy this new project and many will prefer to leave MGMT in the past. Others, myself included, will embrace this album with a familiar nostalgia and appreciate this album as some of the best music the duo has ever produced.
Steffen Holter is a music columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.