Little Dark Age
2018, Columbia Records
The elusive American duo defy expectations yet again on their fourth outing.
In 2007, Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser were making shiny, effervescent pop-psychedelia for the masses, and with Little Dark Age, the pair have come full circle. While not quite ascending to the dizzying heights they achieved on Oracular Spectacular, the album straddles the line between glitzy, 80s-inspired synth-pop and a darker, more brooding sound, with mixed results.
Album opener She Works Out Too Much sets the tone for much of the album to come; contemporary internet vernacular is fused with a horrifically kitsch dance beat laced with home workout tape samples. The trite saxophone solo leaves a sour taste in the mouth of this listener. Despite this, the track provides some interesting commentary on the nature of interpersonal relationships in the 21st century and our image-obsessed milieu, a theme which is revisited somewhat on TSLAMP (Time Spent Looking At My Phone). While the subject matter feels slightly overbearing, the song is bolstered by a funk-ridden instrumental sprinkled with Daft Punk-esque vocoded vocals, making for one of the more enjoyable tracks on the album.
In fact, the first half of Little Dark Age is home to nearly all of the highlights; When You Die is angst-ridden frustration set to a melancholic, deceptive beat, and Me And Michael, the most unashamedly jaunty track here, is an irresistible ode to friendship with an anthemic sing-along chorus. The pair aren’t covering any particularly new ground on the track, but instead rely on the pseudo-nostalgia factor to achieve an undeniably lavish and captivating track. The title track has a chorus reminiscent of Comedown Machine-era Strokes, but is somewhat self-indulgent.
Unfortunately, the latter half of the record falls flat in comparison. The whimsical baritone of James continues where Me and Michael left off, but Days That Got Away is pure unadulterated filler, causing the album to stagnate. One Thing Left To Try is varnished with a glossy façade of pop pizzazz, but harbours little substance beneath the surface, and When You’re Small sounds initially like the duo have unwisely reimagined the Beatles’ Something, but soon gives way to a fine psychedelic ballad.
Hand It Over feels like an appropriate ending to Little Dark Age, all plush backing vocals and smooth instrumentation, but ultimately highlights the need for a wider range of sonic variation. The synth-pop sound that permeates the record is platitudinous as is, but MGMT repeatedly fail to bring anything new to the table to augment it. Despite its shortcomings, MGMT’s 4th album has flashes of pure pop brilliance that should have been capitalised on.
Blue Velvet (Contributing Editor)