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March 22, 2018   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Review: Psychedelic pop album has presence and permanence

Little Dark Age


The music project of Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser, otherwise known as MGMT, was a huge hit back in the mid-2000s. Tracks like “Kids” and “Time To Pretend” rocketed the group to stardom: Its debut album “Oracular Spectacular” was named the best album of 2008 by New Musical Express magazine, and in 2009, Rolling Stone declared it one of the top 20 albums of the decade.

However, its last two albums “Congratulations” in 2010 and its self-titled release in 2013 experimented with the space rock genre, which caused a significant dwindling in the group’s fanbase. However, MGMT returns to its psychedelic electropop roots with its new album “Little Dark Age,” making its five-year hiatus worth the wait.

The opening track, “She Works Out Too Much,” shows just how much the band has evolved from its early days of creating songs in a Wesleyan University dorm room. At first glance, the song is almost unrecognizable as MGMT; it sounds more like an ’80s workout track rather than relying on MGMT’s usual electro hooks and contemplative lyrics. But with a catchy drumbeat, a funky guitar riff and bass line and even a saxophone solo thrown in the mix, this song proves to be an indication of what’s to come strong lyrics combined with feel-good instrumentals.

The next song, “Little Dark Age,” is a synth-heavy track that gives off hints of fun electronic melodies and drumbeats similar to those of the 2007 hit track “Time To Pretend” off the group’s debut album “Oracular Spectacular.” “When You Die” combines angry lyrics with a cheerful, Beatles-esque guitar riff. Halfway through, the album transitions from upbeat synth to more mellow acoustics. In “When You’re Small,” VanWyngarden and Goldwasser opt for acoustic guitars and soft piano with lyrics that describe the highs and lows that accompany growing up. “Days That Got Away” is the sole instrumental track on the album. It blends a groovy bass riff with falsetto electric guitar solos into one chillwave masterpiece, showing that VanWyngarden and Goldwasser still have some unexpected tricks up their sleeves.

At some points, however, some of the album nearly crosses the fine line between inspiration and imitation. “One Thing Left To Try” could be easily mistaken as an Empire of the Sun song; the similarities of the drums and synthesizers between it and Empire of the Sun’s most popular song, “Walking On A Dream,” are uncanny. The closing track, “Hand It Over,” sounds familiar; the introductory guitar riff within the closing track is identical to the riff used throughout Tame Impala’s hit song “Yes I’m Changing.”

However, the lyrics prove to be the real star of this album. Despite their dark undertones, they describe the highs and lows that MGMT has experienced throughout its five-year hiatus and stay in touch with the group’s lyrical roots that were established in “Oracular Spectacular.” “Welcome to the sshow/Grab a comfortable seat” is one of the lines from “She Works Out Too Much” and in a way, it describes the album itself. Though the experimentation of new synthesizers and instruments may make the songs seem over the top, the lyrics and the danceable choruses make it a chaotic and entertaining “sshow” in the best way.

Overall, “Little Dark Age” shows that though MGMT is not as popular as it was in 2008, the band is not the one-hit wonder it was thought to be. The album has promising, danceable hits such as “She Works Out Too Much” and “Little Dark Age and underrated gems like “Days That Got Away” and “When You’re Small.” “Little Dark Age” proves that though MGMT is not as currently popular as other well-known indie artists, the group is back and it’s here to stay.