MGMT - Little Dark Age

by Joseph Majsterski Rating:7 Release Date:2018-02-09
MGMT - Little Dark Age
MGMT - Little Dark Age

MGMT, the duo of Andrew VanWyngarden and Benjamin Goldwasser are so-called indie darlings, even though they're on a major label. Confusing how that works. But it doesn't really matter as long as the music is good. And on their fourth album, Little Dark Age, out this month after a five-year break since their last album in 2013, is definitely good. Have they become less "indie" and more "pop" over the years? Yes. But that's not necessarily a bad thing either.

One of the most noticeable things on this new album is how VanWyngarden's voice seems to have mellowed over the years. He's doesn't sound quite as rough and raw as he did on Oracular Spectacular in particular. In fact, the major difference between older MGMT and this album is they simply sound more mature. And while their first album was something of a surprise, this sounds premeditated.

Something else that's interesting is how much they echo their contemporaries in the set. The off-kilter, almost off-key opener, 'She Works Out Too Much', has the same goofy charm as Prince Rama's antics. The title track rolls along on thick synths and would fit in perfectly on the latest M83 album. 'Me and Michael', a slow-moving ballad, also comes off as very M83 circa 'Kim and Jessie'. 'TSLAMP' is loaded with mellow keys and groovy beats. I can see the disco ball in my mind while listening to it, and I keep thinking 80s 80s 80s.

I can't decide if I've heard so much of this style of music now, between the original songs of the era and all the indie electro pop of the last 10-15 years, that it's all just turning into a musical slurry sloshing around in my brain, or if the tunes really are that derivative. Which again, is not to say there's anything wrong with them. The music is solid, but no individual songs knocked my socks off.

Still, some songs, like 'When You Die', were at least arresting. The harmonizing vocal sections are delightful, even as the lyrics are vicious. And the acoustic guitar lightens the mood. 'Days that Got Away', meanwhile, drinks deeply from the chillwave well, going all hazy and smeared, almost meditative.

The song where the band sounds most like their old selves is 'One Thing Left to Try', a punchy tune that takes a minute to get going but then proceeds through a few fun transitions, all loaded with bouncy percussion and shimmering synths.

The last two songs are a pair of slower ballads. 'When You're Small' is pretty straightforward, with simple, clean singing and guitar filled in with a bit of psychedelic noodling here and there. 'Hand It Over' relies on some nice call and response choruses, and also goes psych, but skips the guitars for the most part.

Every time I listen to this set, I feel like I can't quite get a grip on it. It's good, very good, and I enjoy large swaths of it. But I can't nail down the specifics of what I enjoy. I just have to accept it as is without delving too deeply into what's going on with it.

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