Out of all of the band who came out of the indie/pop/electronica wave in the late 00's, MGMT is perhaps the best known. Their first album Oracular Spectacular was a hit around the world, thanks to songs such as "Time to Pretend", "Kids", "Weekend Wars". But I never really gave them more than a passing glance, there's no real reason why, I never had the time. However, it's been ten years since Oracular Spectacular was released, so it's timely that MGMT has released their latest opus - Little Dark Age. The cover for this album is fucked up, a reworking of Edvard Munch's The Scream, this image terrifies me to my core, more so than anything that Slayer added to their covers. It also looks like it was print for a 1980's colleage fanzine, it has a grainy quality which is so retro that it has its own time personal time warp. Little Dark Age was produced by MGMT with the assistance of Patrick Wimberly and David Fridmann, in a plethora of studios around the world. This could be a recipe for disaster, or the long-fabled "really good multi-producer album"! So, let's find out how it's turned out...
01 – She Works Out Too Much
Straight away, there is a change to the MGMT that I have listened to before, as “She Works Out Too Much” is a song about a person who never commits to anything other than the gym. Nothing else is worthwhile, the only goal is to make themselves look physically fit. This synth song is a beautiful tune, it’s very energetic with a great hook. But it’s not in your face, it’s a gentle number in a lot of ways. For this reason, it perks my interest up straight away, they are not relying on their O.T.T. sound, they’ve changed and immediately it’s worked to their advantage!
02 – Little Dark Age
The title track of Little Dark Age was released as a single in 2017, I listened to it a few times and it sort of passed me by. Nothing personal to MGMT, but it was not doing anything different. However, on Little Dark Age, it slots into this dark, synth-based world with effortless ease. It’s part Baroque pop, part Erasure, part 80’s art house and all full of dark pleasures of the night. Sometimes you need to hear a song in context, “Little Dark Age” is one of those tracks.
03 – When You Die
“When You Die” is not a nice song, it is a spot-on fuck you all to the whole of mankind. This self-admission of being a douche is all wrapped up in a charming electronica pop, with oriental tones interweaved throughout the song. It’s one of the biggest enigmas of the album, but one that I keep returning to, there is something about it that makes the world turn upside down when it’s on, it must be the guest appearance of Ariel Pink.
04 – Me & Michael
“Me & Michael” is the mission song from the film Drive, it would have fitted on that soundtrack like a glove. This forbidden love song is a beautiful piece, with its gentle synth melody which interlinks with a steady drumbeat that homes in on your mind, then your heart. For some reason, this song is the one that affects me the most, it seems to have that magic factor that makes a song special. It’s so gentle, but it sounds brilliant when played as loud as possible.
05 – TSLAMP
“TSLAMP” is a song about how modern society is seemingly stuck on the mobile phone all the time, that bright brick that sucks time and life out of a person. The warning that people will lose the ability to communicate in person is not something new, each age has a communication device that causes humanity to ignore each other, but it does seem to be increasing with the advancement of phone technology, the latest must-have gadgets and models. I also found it ironic that I first heard this via my phone’s MP3 player, glued to the screen as they say. Musically and lyrically, "TSLAMP" is one of the best songs on Little Dark Age.
06 – James
“James” is another song which has a European film-esque feel to the sound, which its delicate keyboards, subtle vocals and low-key production. It’s not a criticism to say this is low key, just comparing it to the MGMT sound I’ve known before when it’s been OTT and sounding as if a thousand fireworks were going off at once. For a song about a pet dog, it’s a gentle little number that does not fall into the traps of being over sentimental or too silly, can’t say any fairer than that really.
07 – Days That Got Away
“Days That Got Away” is an instrumental track, for the most part, one of the few on the album which has a hint of shade to the sound instead of the hazy sunshine of summer. There is an apprehension to the music, it’s the tension that holds the song together, as this dark synth song goes on. If you could imagine an 80’s film, with someone walking down a dark alley all paranoid, this is the perfect song for that occasion.
08 – One Thing Left to Try
“One Thing Left to Try” is a song about wanting to try something else, that one thing you must do before you passed beyond the veil. They seem to be chasing that moment where we feel alive, more so that you’ve ever done before, that adrenaline rush to the human condition. It’s a decent number, once again it’s drenched in that Euro-Pop/cinematic feel, but it is never overbearing.
09 – When You’re Small
“When You’re Small” is the dark horse of Little Dark Age, the song which could be pointing in a new direction or be a glorious one off. It’s a song about how you feel in regard to your height, but how you need to grow from being small to make something of yourself, to stay small is not an option that should be entertained. It’s a beautiful song, one that sounds like nothing else on this album, but one that is as important as anything else MGMT have ever done.
10 – Hand It Over
“Hand It Over” ends Little Dark Age on a reflective number, one which is perfect for ending this album. It’s a finale about giving the baton onto the next person, with some cheeky lyrics and a mournful repose. It never explodes out of the block, instead it smoulders out of the speakers in a way that is dignified and reluctant to finish at the same time. I never wanted this song to end, not because it’s my favourite, but because it would mean the album was over.
Little Dark Age is the best album that MGMT has released ever. This is not open for debate, it’s their most consistent record, their most focused record and also MGMT's most adventurous as well. I love the fact it’s trying something different to their normal stuff, it going out on a limb, it takes the leap of faith into the unknown. I love that they had the confidence to release this record, I cannot praise it enough and I hope it gets the respect and reception I think it deserves. And it's a multi-produced album that I love, this is truly a rare and wonderful beast of a record!
9 out of ten – Almost perfect, almost….
Top track – When You’re Small
You can purchase Little Dark Age on Amazon here.
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You can stream Little Dark Age on Deezer here.
You can stream Little Dark Age on Spotify here.
You can stream Little Dark Age on Tidal here.