Five years after the release of their self-titled, MGMT is back with a dazzling new album that seeks to cater to digital-age anxieties rather than discredit them. With artists such as Ariel Pink and Connan Mockasin providing their creative input and Chairlift’s Patrick Wimberly producing it, it was inevitable that Little Dark Age would turn out to be the synth-heavy psychedelic work of art that it is.
Immediately we are thrown into a fun, yet slightly discomforting dance track with “She Works Out Too Much.” This leads us right into a Congratulations-era sound- yet something about it seems distant and strange and as we transition into the goth-pop titular track off the album it is clear that this is intentional. The synth carries this uneasiness from the distance and places it right in front of you so you are unable to look away from it. This discomfort is a reflection of the album itself- MGMT, known for their danceable party tunes in “Little Dark Age” they admit that despite this, even they are unable to avoid the harshness of modern politics and the terrifying thought that it is impossible in this era to completely escape the tragedies that flood our news feeds every day.
Little Dark Age is undoubtedly MGMT’s most mature album- both sound-wise and in a lyrical sense. In a way, following their discography is seeing the two grow up. Here we see them in a strange and unfamiliar place they have never been: grounded in reality. Lead singer Andrew VanWyngarden’s trademark falsetto is distinctly not present throughout the album, a reflection of the more somber and ruminative tone it carries. Though we get a variety of danceable tracks (some of which sound directly off Dedicated to Bobby Jameson), we are never allowed to push the notion that something is off to the back of our minds.
Though philosophy is something that MGMT has never shied away from, their particular brand in this album seems a bit darker with recurring themes of death in songs like “When You Die,” “Days That Got Away,” and “One Thing Left To Try.” As we are pulled through this section of the album, we too are pulled sonically in a way that is absolutely reflective of self-reflective thought that turns sour. “When You Die” frames the idea of death in an absurdist manner- though we are meant to feel uneasy, you are still able to enjoy the 80’s sound and laughter is placed in the track itself as a means to laugh off the notion of death. “Days That Got Away” follows, and the mostly instrumental track is incredibly reflective of Mockasin’s influence on the album. The more psychedelic-funk allows us to ruminate on the idea of our own death in a way that is not too sudden- it is a subtle shift. We pick right back up tempo-wise with “One Thing Left To Try” as MGMT implores us that we do not want to die living in complicity or acceptance.
Withdrawing on this thought and into themselves, the simplest track is the cinematically psychedelic “When You’re Small” and ties the common threads of death, anxiety, and chaos together in a soft track that features strings, an acoustic guitar, and a hint of synth as VanWyngarden softly reminds us of our smallness in the vast universe. This slowly transitions into the other slow song off the album, “Hand It Over.” Combining the soft afterthought from the previous track with the more enjoyable psychedelic key moments that are thematic of the album, we fade out feeling perhaps not less alone, but a little more understood.