HomeMusicMGMT’s “Little Dark Age” Finds Dreamy POPtimism Through The Darkness

MGMT’s “Little Dark Age” Finds Dreamy POPtimism Through The Darkness

Photo Credit: Brad Elterman

A lot has happened to MGMT in the 11 years since their incredible debut album Oracular Spectacular changed the indie landscape. The duo, lyricist and lead vocalist Andrew VanWyngarden and multi-instrumentalist Ben Goldwasser, seemingly reached massive success overnight in 2007 with the release of hits “Time to Pretend,” “Kids,” and “Electric Feel.” Their infectious synthpop was a game-changer in bringing New Wave to the mainstream while their equally impressive yet eccentric live shows deemed them untouchable.

Then, ever so strangely, everything changed when they released 2010’s criminally underrated Congratulations. Critics panned their experimental second album and fans found it too bizarre. Three years later, their self-titled third record received similar fanfare, or lack thereof.

Secretly, Andrew and Ben admitted they weren’t sure if they’d be able to come back from it. Luckily, they did. And thank God they did. MGMT’s newest record Little Dark Age isn’t simply a return to form, but an honest to goodness pop triumph.


Like many records created in the last year or so, Andrew and Ben claim they were inspired to write such a positive pop record after President Trump was elected. Andrew told Rolling Stone, “Apparently, we were more inspired to write pop music after evil took over the world.” The looming threat of evil perfectly meets pop on the title track and record’s first single in which Andrew sings, “The humor’s not the same / coming from denial / I grieve in stereo / the stereo sounds strange / burn the page / my little dark age.” Cheerful synth riffs and New Order-esque bass paired with darker lyrics recalls the pleasurable dissonance of Oracular.

The record’s second single “When You Die” continues the theme of slightly darker lyrics made light-hearted by dreamy melodies and the occasional overdubbed laugh track. Psychedelic tones and chimes create a shimmery atmosphere as Andrew sings in a moody tone, “I’m not that nice / I’m mean and I’m evil / Don’t call me nice / I’m gonna eat your heart out.” It’s a little hit full of that youthful angst MGMT just nails.

“When You’re Small” is a softer piano ballad that dives deeper into the introspection of youth and growing old; in ways it’s like a more grown-up version of “Kids.” With melodies reminiscent of Paul Simon, the song reminds us “When you’re small / you don’t have very far to fall / When you’re small / you feel like you belong.”

MGMT aren’t afraid to remind us that, yes, their debut record ripe with child-like freedom and wonder was over a decade ago, and they too are older. The undeniably catchy “She Works Out to Much” is an 80’s-infused romp equal parts super fun and critical of dating culture. Inspired by misadventures on Tinder, the album’s opening track sounds like audio of a workout program on VHS but with self-aware lyrics.

Even though Andrew sings, “I can never keep up / Sick of liking your selfies / Should’ve gone with my gut / […] I’m constantly swiping it, tapping / it’s never relaxing / I need a new routine,” he admits to be mocking is own age more than anything. Self-awareness reaches new levels on “TSLAMP,” standing for “time spent looking at my phone.” Funky beats and a catchy chorus can’t even hide the singer’s disdain over “losing consciousness” because of his phone. Just like LCD Soundsystem, MGMT are techno-wary.

Little Dark Age isn’t all moody angst and Luddite sentiments, though. The tracks “Me and Michael” and “James” are unexpectedly some of the most wholesome and sweetest pop tunes I’ve heard in years. While “Me and Michael,” another single capable of reaching arena-level singalongs, was written for a mystery man only known by the songwriters, “James” is dedicated to James Richardson – all-around good guy and MGMT’s actual touring guitarist. Completely unironic, “James” earnestly features the following verse: “James / come right over / Don’t even knock / and I’ll be home / The door is always open / and we both can say, ‘Who’s laughing now?’” The tracks are simple and sweet, small-feeling and even more intimate; reminiscent of 80’s ballads like The Promise” by When In Rome and Love My Way” by The Psychedelic Furs.

On an album so rich with dreamy choruses and poignant lyrics, it’s a joy to hear “Days That Got Away” – an almost lyricless capture of classic MGMT psychedelics. Electro beats and funky bass work with slowed-down synths to create a hazy tune that makes you want to open your bedroom window, hang off the side of your bed, and close your eyes.

“One Thing Left To Try” is Little Dark Age’s best track amongst the already-solid bunch. Its pop-friendly layers and beautiful harmonies evoke an 80’s prom dance and the most fun you can have in only four minutes and twenty seconds. “Do you wanna feel alive? / Do you wanna keep us alive?” the song repeatedly asks over and over with only a hint of underlying darkness. You do, you really do.

Negative criticism and creative pressure aside, Little Dark Age proves what MGMT has always been capable of: crafting perfect pop hits. The duo’s ability to straddle optimistically earnest songwriting with an inner angsty darkness reminds us that dancing through pain is perfectly acceptable. Everyone has a dark age – MGMT just hopes it’s a little one.

Album Highlights: “One Thing Left To Try,” “When You Die,” “Me and Michael,” “Little Dark Age”

MGMT, Little Dark Age rating: 9/10

-Kat Manos: Website | Instagram | Twitter


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