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Little Dark Age: MGMT’s Creepy Comeback

You might remember MGMT for their catchy 2008 hits such as “Electric Feel” and “Kids,” but band members Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser have released much more eccentric music since then. Their experimental 2013 self-titled was not received well by most; the blend of psychedelia and trance put the band’s pop-loving audience to sleep. My excitement upon hearing the announcement of a new MGMT album was met with concern: Will they be able to bounce back from their self-titled album? Can psychedelic-pop make a comeback in 2018? The answer to both: sort of.

Little Dark Age, released on February 9, emits a creepy vibe, but in a good way. The title track was released several months ago, and fueled my excitement for the album. This goth synth-pop jam is reinforced by VanWyngarden’s spooky lyrics- “I grieve in stereo / The stereo sounds strange / I know that if you hide / It doesn’t go away.” Reminiscent of the band’s original sound, this track is a great marriage of past and present. 

“When You Die” was also released several months ago, and the eerie tonality of the song compliments its dark subject matter. The intro lyrics are somewhat of a mantra for those of us who try to appear tougher than we are- “I’m not that nice / I’m mean and I’m evil / Don’t call me nice / I’m gonna eat your heart out.” The echoey song goes on to explore themes of mortality, as the title implies- “You die / And words won’t do anything / It’s permanently night / And I won’t feel anything.” The super trippy music video for this song features Alex Karpovsky, best known for his role on the HBO show Girls, as a magician who is seemingly killed during his failing magic act. Creepy and commanding, this song is one of my favorites on the album.

Cutting through the creepiness, “Me and Michael,” opens with a burst of bright synth-pop straight from MGMT’s roots. A solid bass line supports airy layered samples, creating a rich melody. Every time this song comes on, the chorus gets stuck in my head all day. Although the musicality is pretty basic, it’s a great song to dance alone in your room to.

There’s an annoying theme present in two of the songs on Little Dark Age: phone usage. “She Works Out Too Much” begins the album with a funky upbeat synth melody and narration by a 90’s spin class instructor. Exploring dating-app exhaustion, this song is all too relatable for college students. However, the lyrics get a bit annoying- “I’m constantly swiping it, tapping / It’s never relaxing / I need a new routine.” It sounds as if VanWyngarden is millennial-shaming. “TSLAMP” (“Time Spent Looking At My Phone”) really throws this theme over the edge. I guess MGMT is trying to relate to younger fans, but the VanWyngarden ends up sounding like a 70-year old grandpa nagging their teenage grandchild about texting at the dinner table. This is especially disappointing because the musicality of “TSLAMP” is great, specifically in the chorus.

Four songs towards the end of the album are kinda dull, but they each have their own special qualities that make them bearable. The intro to “James” is intriguing and dramatic, but the song gets a bit stale after a while. If MGMT did something more experimental with this upbeat synth-pop tune, it could be great. “Days That Got Away” is a good song to study to and is reminiscent of some trance songs on their self-titled, but doesn’t really hold my attention. “One Thing Left to Try” is definitely my favorite of the four, bouncy and melodically pleasing, but still kind of basic. “When You’re Small” is definitely my least favorite song on the album, with a slow tempo, basic melody, and uninteresting lyrics.

“Hand It Over” is a chill and groovy conclusion to the patchwork of songs in this album. Also released before the album came out, I hoped to hear more tunes like it on Little Dark Age. Nevertheless, the chord progression caught my attention from the first listen, and I’m still shook by the musicality of this dreamy song.

MGMT’s comeback from their self-titled is overall impressive, but I’m still left feeling a little disappointed. Some songs could have used much more attention to detail, but the best songs on the album succeed because they have a certain catchiness that traces back to the band’s roots. MGMT has come a long way since their big debut, but they incorporate these changes into Little Dark Age in a way that doesn’t take away from their classic synth-pop sound.

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