MGMT is pretty weird. The band’s particular brand of alternative/indie with hint of psychedelia became popular after their first album Oracular Spectacular, followed by two less popular albums Congratulations and MGMT. On February 9, the group released a fourth album called Little Dark Age. It follows the band’s own groovy synthesized feeling – a Pink Floyd that decided to be pop – but without the visionary energy. The band took inspiration in American politics to compose the new album and a few tunes reflect that. Most songs are quite flat and almost too relaxing, but the song “Little Dark Age” is a decent crowd pleaser. Like other similar bands, Alt-J and Of Montreal, MGMT produces one good album every few average ones. Little Dark Age had promise,but fell in the “alright” category. Worth a listen but not worth the hype.
The American band was formed by Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser, who met during their first year at Wesleyan University. Oracular Spectacular was the band’s big hit and targeted at the young indie fandom around 2007. They were the good weird then, but since that time alternative synth music has leaned towards pop and dance; MGMT seemed left behind. Although Little Dark Age is a bit closer to pop, there is still some emptiness, tension, contrast, energy, and wicked melodies missing and most of the songs feel like an endless spiral. “The album was unimpressive… the songs are not very distinct and kind of blur together but there are a couple of interesting songs,” Joshua Andino ’20 told me.
The ninth song of the album, “When You’re Small,” is a little more interesting. It has a clear Pink Floyd feel for me: a moody repetition of sad melody and slow lyrics that are perfect for a gloomy day. The inspiration for the album was the American political situation (and you-know-who) so perhaps this would be a great song for November 8, 2016. “When You’re Small” captures the classic liberal arts college artsy frustration. What makes this song possibly the best of the album is the auditory simplicity but complex arrangement and odd lyrics.
“Days That Got Away,” the seventh song of the album, has some interesting effects and feels to me like walking dizzily around a big city. It’s busy and confusing but still homogeneous somehow. The lyrics are “days that got away” on loop and even the dreamy voices feel isolated. If it is a trip, it is not quite a good one. There’s nothing to hold onto.
Andino added a different opinion: “for me ‘Little Dark Age’ and ‘When You Die’ are two of the nicer ones in the album.” I agree that “When You Die” is the closest MGMT got to their earlier vibes. “When You Die” has suicidal lyrics and explicit language in a distorted and psychedelic vehicle so listen with caution.
Oracular Spectacular is still my favorite album of the band and Little Dark Age doesn’t really come close. The band’s first album opens with the simple riff of “Time to Pretend,” dreamy, soft, and vibrant like a drugged smoothie in Palm Beach. Little Dark Age lost the simplicity but that’s okay; times are complicated and America is busy. Little Dark Age is not “dancey,” but maybe MGMT delivered on the album that the country needs now.