“MGMT ARE BACK” reads a sign in the music video for “Me and Michael,” one of the singles from MGMT’s latest album, Little Dark Age. This is the fourth studio album from the band comprised of Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser, and it marks MGMT’s return after a four-year hiatus. From start to finish, MGMT’s latest release is captivating and meaningful. Whether or not you’re familiar with the band’s past work, Little Dark Age is an infectious mix of black comedy, unabashed quirkiness, and great pop-songwriting.
The opening track “She Works Out Too Much” addresses the pitfalls of dating in the super fast internet age. The lyrics playfully lampoon the instagram generation’s shallow obsession with swiping, tapping, and collecting likes. “I can never keep up,” laments VanWyngarden. The dancey electronic beat is punctuated by motivational phrases from a perky fitness instructor. The overblown enthusiasm of these snippets adds a sense of humor to the song. I particularly like the poppy brass and the saxophone toward the end of this track which wildly improvises around the melody.
Next is the title track, “Little Dark Age,” a brooding synthpop odyssey. The echoey quality of the heavy synthesizers and the reverb on the vocals create a moody gothic atmosphere. The lyrics further build on this feeling of dread. Certain images in the lyrics can’t be separated from the political message behind them, “Policemen swear to god / Love’s seeping from the guns / I know my friends and I / Would probably turn and run.” Although they may be somewhat cryptic, references like this to police brutality and other issues suggest there is something unsavory rooted deep within our own society, something we would rather keep hidden in the dark recesses of our mind than confront.
“When You Die” is an abrasive statement about death and what follows it. Ariel Pink has a writing credit on this track, and his fingerprints are definitely apparent in the playful cynicism of the chorus and the subverting of pop expectations. The song frequently teases a melody only to suddenly turn in another new and unexpected direction. The strange guitar part sounds like it’s moving backwards, but it works because it builds up brilliantly into the refrain which thrusts the listener into a surreal afterlife populated by a chorus of laughing voices.
“Me and Michael” stands out as the very accessible feel-good track on the album. The pulsating keyboard, straightforward percussion, and smooth vocal inflection make this one of my favorite tracks on Little Dark Age. The subject matter is nostalgic yet vague enough that it can be about almost any friendship you’ve ever had. In terms of structure, it doesn’t pull any tricks, but it doesn’t need to. The elements of this eighties-indebted song come together beautifully, resulting in a track that has been stuck in my head since I first heard it. When that chorus finally hits, its impossible to resist singing along.
The last track, “Hand it Over,” brings closure to the album. The song revolves around abuse of power and corruption, but the delivery is apathetic as if the observer in the song is up in the clouds watching us from a removed vantage point. The song certainly floats like a gentle psychedelic pop dream. The gentle ebb and flow of the heavy synthesizer washes over the dreamy harmonies like waves, while a groovy bass line bubbles just under the surface of the melody. Eventually, the dream fades away and you are left alone with just your thoughts.
Like great art, Little Dark Age doesn’t give us answers; instead, it prompts us to search inward for our own questions and solutions. I can see myself coming back to this album in the future for its countless memorable moments, the musical intricacies that reward multiple listens, and its great production value. You could not go wrong in giving Little Dark Age a listen.