MGMT, “Little Dark Age”
Little Dark Age
The experience of skyrocketing and subsequently drifting downward as a band is such that many musicians would rather never skyrocket in the first place. In the late aughts, with their debut album Oracular Spectacular, Connecticut duo MGMT made millions, dated Victoria’s Secret models, and headlined the festivals they now semi-headline. Now, after a sophomore and junior slump, the question is whether they can earn the cultural gravitas of a Modest Mouse or a Faith No More—bands that seem like one-hit wonders to the general public but still maintain a lifelong cult following for their consistent output—versus a Crowded House or a Semisonic, who tour for their entire careers knowing the bulk of the crowd is waiting for the encore.
MGMT’s fourth LP Little Dark Age marks a return to the concise synth pop of Oracular Spectacular after their intermittent phases of indulgent psych-rock. Despite mixed reviews, the lead single and title track “Little Dark Age” is a beautiful new wave homage, with crisp production from Chairlift’s Patrick Wimberly spicing the stew. “Me and Michael” invokes the aesthetics of the ’80s to a degree that even the Duffer Brothers might envy, singer Andrew VanWyngarden at peak whimsy musing about an imaginary friend. However, where Side A of Little Dark Age is right on par with Oracular Spectacular, the record loses some steam in its latter half; “When You’re Small” relishes its own obviousness, and closer “Hand It Over” has a powerfully lulling effect, though it’d be more powerful if the previous four songs weren’t so meandering.
“When You Die” is a song whose chorus plainly states, “I’m not that nice” and “Go fuck yourself.” It’s one of the simplest yet craftiest compositions of their career, along with the timely “TSLAMP,” which stands for “Time spent looking at my phone,” and features a lithe flamenco guitar solo that somehow blends superbly with retro synth pop. Anti-social themes are fitting for a band that has officially stopped giving a damn how the world reacts to their music, and even the title implies a meditation on legacy and what they’ll ultimately leave behind. Little Dark Age was met with little anticipation or excitement, but the music gives the impression that the two have transcended their concern with status or influence.
After all, they’ve already seen the top, made enough money to last a lifetime (“Let’s make some music, make some money, find some models for wives,” goes the prophetic lyric from 2007’s “Time to Pretend”), and now they’ve matured, settled down, and enjoyed the privilege of creating on their own terms. Perhaps in reality, MGMT are in the most enviable position a musician could conceive of.