MGMT: Little Dark Age Review

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“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.

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Super Bowl LII Halftime Show: Touchdown or Fumble?

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Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images

103.4 million people tuned in to watch Super Bowl LII on Sunday night. I was one of those people. Some watch for the big game, some watch for the commercials, some enjoy the snacks served at the parties, and others get excited for the halftime show. I fit myself into the latter two categories. I pay attention to the game, but I’m mostly there for a good cheese platter and an entertaining performance.

Super Bowl halftime shows can be hit or miss sometimes. In the last couple of years, several performers have stood out to me for giving great shows, but for every Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, or Katy Perry, there seems to be a Coldplay. It’s impossible to satisfy everyone when it comes to the most hyped-up and talked about performance event of the year, but overall, I thought that Justin Timberlake did a good job. It wasn’t one of the greats, but it at least kept my attention for thirteen minutes.

Justin wisely started the show with “Filthy,” a song from his new album, Man of the Woods. Quickly getting the new song out of the way is a smart move, because people watching the Super Bowl don’t exactly care about his new music; they come for the hits they can sing along to, which Justin delivered on. The setlist contained all of his most popular crowd-pleasers, including “Rock Your Body,” “Sexy Back,” “Cry Me a River,” “Suit and Tie,” “Mirrors,” and “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”

One thing I liked about the show was how the musicians and band-members were showcased. Too often, the band is hidden out of sight in these types of shows, but here they were dancing and playing right next to Justin. During “Sexy Back,” I was happy to be able to see the trombonist, guitarist, trumpeter, and saxophonist grooving together. The University of Minnesota Marching Band also played a big role in “Suit and Tie,” in which they were all appropriately dressed in tuxedos. The whole marching band swinging their instruments behind Justin, as he danced around with a moving microphone on a glowing white box, was one of my favorite parts of the whole show.

 

Pepsi Super Bowl LII Halftime Show

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

There was a lot of impressive dancing in the show as well. One stand-out moment was the dance break on top of the NFL logo. The synchronized dancing was well choreographed, and everyone involved made those crazy dance moves look effortless.

 

This year, I missed the wild and imaginative costumes of previous years. The back-up singers had some costume changes, but it seemed a little lame that Justin sported a caribou shirt the whole time. More creative outfits from the past, like Katy Perry’s beach ball dress or Lady Gaga’s shiny metal costume, left a lasting impression on my mind.

The Prince tribute was also a little bit questionable. Prince was once asked if he would ever consider using technology to jam with an artist from the past, to which he responded, “Certainly not. That’s the most demonic thing imaginable. Everything is as it is, and it should be. If I was meant to jam with Duke Ellington, we would have lived in the same age. That whole virtual reality thing… it really is demonic. And I am not a demon.” Going ahead against Prince’s wishes and having Justin Timberlake sing a duet with him seemed disrespectful. The part where they lit up the entire stadium and its surrounding area purple would have been enough.

Overall, Justin Timberlake put on a good show, although only time will tell if his performance will stick in our minds like great Super Bowl halftime shows of the past. There were some great moments and there were some awkward moments, but hopefully everyone was able to find something to enjoy about the biggest sporting event of the year.