Release Date: 9th February 2018
- She Works Out Too Much
- Little Dark Age
- When You Die
- Me and Michael
- Days That Got Away
- One Thing Left to Try
- When You’re Small
- Hand It Over
The Kids have finally grown up – and it sounds darkly brilliant.
“Oxymoronic, ostentatious and simply outstanding”
MGMT were catapulted to mainstream success following the release of their debut album Oracular Spectacular, with most of the plaudits going to singles Kids, Time to Pretend and Electric Feel. Initially intended as a joke or spoof of the modern music industry, MGMT found huge popularity in their debut album. However, the two following albums alienated MGMT from their fanbase, leaving the American duo of Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser desperately clawing at their original success. Most people, including myself, thought that the sun had set on the psychedelic synth-rock stars, however, Little Dark Age packs a mighty punch and serves to prove that the duo has not yet thrown in the towel. In the new record, VanWyngarden’s lyrics prove much more serious than previous albums, with a healthy dose of socio-political commentary, however, the songs still sound deliriously upbeat. Oxymoronic, ostentatious and simply outstanding.
She Works Out Too Much
A somewhat upbeat-yet-cynical portrayal of dating in the 21st Century, She Works Out Too Much satirically comments on the end of a relationship; with the main reason for the split being the difference in the member’s exercise habits. The song critiques modern society’s unreasonable standards of dating, and also subtly acknowledges the dating app “Tinder” – “Sick of liking your selfies … But I’m constantly swiping it, tapping // it’s not that relaxing”. A great homage to classic 80’s disco with a modern synthesized twist and a tongue-in-cheek nod to vintage home exercise videos tying the whole number together excellently. You’ll struggle to not find yourself tapping along with this bopping start to the album.
Little Dark Age
The primary single of the album, Little Dark Age sees the band revert to an electronic minimalistic track with sombre tones, and VanWyngarden’s melancholic lyrics painting a bleak commentary of the modern state of affairs. The track pulls no punches with its criticisms of American society “Policemen swear to God // Love’s seeping from the guns”, and the rest of the lyrics slowly provide a dismal description of feelings of apathy and hopelessness regarding modern life. Think Robert Smith of The Cure recording in deep space with only a synthesizer. The band somehow manage to pull this combination off in great style, making Little Dark Age an unapologetically brutal-but-beautiful track that demands to be listened to.
When You Die
Sounding like an electronic take on classical Japanese music, When You Die is, on the surface, a perfectly cheerful and jaunty synth-pop dance track with the occasional sharp clash of notes. However, the lyrics present a completely antonymous picture to the laughter that is constantly present throughout the background of the track. The repeated “Go fuck yourself” sung with a delicious sneer, and lyrics such as “We’ll all be laughing with you // When you die” and “I’m ready, ready, ready to blow my brains out” reflect the true dark nature of the track, illustrated with the occasional gunshot sound effect, which suddenly makes the laughter, originally harmless and chipper, sound somewhat ominous.
Me and Michael
Truly synth-pop in its purest form, Me and Michael grabs your attention from the opening hook and refuses to release it until the very end. A wonderfully simple track with an abstract and absurd music video that we have become so accustomed to with MGMT. The band collaborated with Filipino band “Truefaith” to create an absurdly brilliant video concept, with the band actually releasing their version of the track on YouTube a week before Little Dark Age’s release. In the video, the American duo watch a performance of Truefaith performing “Ako at si Michael” (Filipino for ‘Me and Michael’) and decide to “steal” the track. The video addresses the discussion of fact vs fiction, and also the controversy around artist’s royalty rights, an issue with which MGMT are all too familiar (see UMP / Nikolas Sarkozy scandal for more).
TSLAMP (or Time Spent Looking At My Phone) comments on the world’s constant necessity to be connected to social media and this generation’s addiction to mobile technology, through a brilliant piece of musical electronica. The track brings the issue of smartphone addiction into the spotlight, however instead of preaching about the dangerously dystopian future we are slowly sinking into, the band simply commentates on the issue from the perspective of another victim “I’m wondering where the hours went // As I’m losing consciousness // My sullen face is all aglow // Time spent looking at my phone”. The song then bursts into a Flamenco-esque guitar solo that seems both weirdly out of place and yet inexplicably welcome, like Johnny Depp in, well, basically any film ever.
James, one of the simplest tracks on the album, is written as a tribute to close friend of both Andrew and Ben, and touring guitarist and backing vocalist, James Richardson. The song itself, which sounds strikingly reminiscent of On Melancholy Hill by The Gorillaz, consists of an ambient synth backing track, a simple four-note piano hook, and VanWyngarden’s low droning vocals, but the overwhelming message of the track is one of friendship, loyalty and respect.
Days That Got Away
One of the only songs on the album that doesn’t sound like it was recorded in space; Days That Got Away instead sounds like it was recorded deep underwater, like a soundtrack to a Sci-Fi dystopian Atlantis. From the erratic sound effects to the slow rhythmic bassline, this ambient, almost instrumental track features only one line of vocals, “Days that got away”, occasionally repeated throughout the song. This track demonstrates that the band need not only rely on whimsical or satirical lyrics to keep listeners interested, but rather their musical maturity combined with a childlike sense of wonder, all demonstrated through very skilfully used synthesisers.
One Thing Left to Try
One Thing Left to Try comments on the fear of death and the exclamations of someone desperately clinging to life, “I don’t wanna die! // Wishing I’d done something // Before then what’s required // To last until the sunset”. Yet, in excellent synchronisation with the rest of the album, the bleak and desperate lyrics are oxymoronically placed over an upbeat synth-pop beat that makes the track sound hopeful and, dare I say it, “happy”. MGMT have mastered the art of making an album where every track could sound the same, sound beautifully unique whilst maintaining the core theme throughout every song, and this track keeps that motif wonderfully alive.
When You’re Small
By far the most stripped back track of the entire album, When You’re Small keeps the synthesizers very much in the background, instead giving the spotlight to an acoustic guitar and piano combination. It’s a beautiful track that has VanWyngarden lamenting his lost childhood, through the lyrical style of a child; “When you’re small // You can curl into a ball // When you’re small // No you’re not very big at all”. The song itself sounds like if Nick Cave sang vocals over a Jeff Lyne / Electric Light Orchestra backing track, which somehow still sounds good. Although very different to the rest of the album, it is a welcome change that summarises the maturity the band have gone through in the process of writing this album.
Hand It Over
A musically resplendent conclusion to the album, Hand it Over hits like a tragic love story that reaches its inevitable heart-breaking conclusion. You can’t help but feel wistful when you hear the repeated “hand it over”. There’s a lot of political commentary in the lyrics, “The deals we made the shake things up // And the rights that they abuse // Might just fuck us over”, but the overwhelming beauty of the track angelically beams through the heavy subject matter. It truly feels like something you hold very dear is being taken from you and, as the song demands, you aren’t quite ready to let it go.
Against all the odds, MGMT, a band who seemed to be sitting on death row, have pulled off a “Hail Mary” Aaron Rodgers himself would be proud of, in the form of Little Dark Age. It is a musical tapestry that completely encapsulates the maturity the band have gone through and deserves all of the plaudits it should definitely receive.
4.8 / 5 Bytes
Charlie Abbott (@The_C_Abbott)