- The dedication to the cause
- Not trying to hide their hit-making capabilities
- The tracklisting order
After taking a break of 4 years, the return of MGMT is a promising start to 2018. A year that could already start a heated debate over the album of the year, definitely. And it’s only February. With Little Dark Age we can definitely “eat (y)our heart out“. Many remember MGMT only from their biggest triple – “Kids”, “Time To Pretend” and “Electric Feel”, yet the band’s main interest is in experimentation. Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser definitely haven’t forgotten about this, but ‘Little Dark Age’ offers a radio-friendlier cut than it’s two predecessors.
The kickstart of their career – songs played at every indie night across the globe. These were initially intended as a joke, and the band might have been unaware of how far it might go. While the next records after ‘Oracular Spectacular’ – ‘Congratulations’ and the self-titled ‘MGMT’, seemed like an extreme move into the direction away from indie-pop-super-star-dom, even Little Dark Age is still reworking the sudden rush of fame. The maybe most-accessible song of the record, ‘Me & Michael’ is in fact, a song without any message. Born out of “love of European synth-pop” and resentment towards the music industry, probably. And also just an elaborate joke. Created in co-operation with a Filipino band and possibly a Russian artist, the two videos were uploaded online before the official release of ‘Me and Michael’, trolling fans on Reddit. The Guardian dubbed MGMT as synth-pop pranksters – believing it’s time they finally got serious. Yet, with no doubt, there’s much more to come.
Aside from stabs at the music industry, another influence is the current American political landscape. The reality of living in the times of Trump’s America is odd, to say the least. VanWyngarden even went as far to call the election process a feeling of “identity loss”, during an interview with France24. This uncertainty and also a little nihilism is underlining the entire run-time of the LP. On one side, we have VanWyngarden’s slightly deadpan singing voice. Even on lines like “I don’t wanna die”, it’s uncertain whether this is a genuine cry or not. It all gives ‘Little Dark Age’ another layer of charm – the unease of being uncomfortable with what’s happening in the present and certain of only one thing in the future. Death and dying, the inevitable, are main discussion points of the LP. That ranges from a suicide-note-esque ‘When You Die’ to the hopeful ‘One Last Thing To Try’. Which is an exception – Hopeful attitudes are definitely in the minority on ‘Little Dark Age’.
The 80’s-sounding synths have taken front and centre of the ‘Little Dark Age’ stage. The love for psychedelic rock is genuine. Maybe the love for its substances is too, which helped write the song ‘James’. The only rawer, accoustic cut is ‘When You’re Small’ – a nostalgic ballad with that certain Pink-Floyd-sounding attitude. Is it another debate about their successes with their big hits from ‘Oracular Spectacular’, or another song about childhood? Debatable. Other comparisons and influences might include Ariel Pink – who actually co-wrote ‘When You Die’ with its resounding line of “Go fuck yourself / I’m mean, not nice“.
The choices made during tracklisting ‘Little Dark Age’ are an oddity. They seemingly prevent the flow and make it seem to be all over the place. Yet maybe exactly that makes it so highly replayable. Whether MGMT are back to making indie-pop hits or not, LDA is returning them on track of making new fans again, rather than losing some of the casual ones. MGMT‘s bitterness over the initial success seems not to be digested yet, but their song-making-craft remains one of the bands strongest assets.