Little Dark Age
Columbia Records · February 09, 2018
After a five year break from making new music, MGMT have returned with their latest album, Little Dark Age — a dystopian glimpse into the technology-ruled present. From their humble beginnings at Wesleyan University, to their 2007 release of Oracular Spectacular, with hits like ‘Time to Pretend’ and ‘Kids,’ that captured the mentality of a disillusioned youth that launched them into fame, Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser have certainly come a long way as the disillusioned youth have grown up.
Although filled with ups and downs, the disenchantment is clear as the album is poignant enough to make the listener think twice about their daily phone usage. The singles released before the album officially dropped, ‘Little Dark Age,’ ‘When You Die,’ ‘Hand it Over,’ and ‘Me and Michael,’ are the shining gems of the album that could have composed a flawless EP. Unfortunately, the addition of songs such as ‘She Works Out Too Much’ and ‘When You’re Small’ rip a black hole into what otherwise would have been a fantastic record.
Starting off the album with the weakest song, ‘She Works Out Too Much,’ was the first fatal flaw in Little Dark Age. With a campy, stale electronic beat that launches into what sounds like an obnoxious 80s aerobics instructor, I immediately cringed and felt all hope was lost in the album. The song rhythm remains uninteresting but lyrics like “Welcome to the shitshow / Grab a comfortable seat / Find me in the front row / Listening to music / Anyone can see” fit the overall frustrated theme of being fed up with technology’s omnipresence.
Immediately following the shitshow of ‘She Works Out Too Much,’ is a streak of gold beginning with ‘Little Dark Age,’ the title track of the album that sounds like a revamped 80s synth-pop hit that’s as New Wave as MGMT gets. The memorable bass line that kicks off the song compliments the catchy beat that flows throughout along with VanWyngarden’s articulate singing of the powerfully disturbing lyrics such as “The feelings start to rot / One wink at a time” and reminders that “I know that if you hide / It doesn’t go away” in this little dark age of deteriorating connections.
Next, ‘When You Die,’ which was originally released accompanying its visually stunning psychedelic music video, is a beautifully crafted nihilistic perspective that is another highlight of the album. The confrontational lyrics composed with twangy guitar lends itself to explosive lines telling the listener to “Go fuck yourself,” harshly reminding, “Don’t you have somewhere to be at seven-thirty?” and “We’ll all be laughing with you when you die.” The dark overtones not only fit perfectly in the overall theme of the album, but also effectively draw the listener into the hell we’ve presently created.
After the depressing journey in ‘When You Die,’ ‘Me and Michael’ provides some comic relief along with a shamelessly catchy hook. Almost indistinguishable from a cheesy 80s love ballad to be played at middle school dances, the heavy synthesizer playfully bops along as VanWyngarden sings of a hilariously ambiguous story of “Me and Michael / Solid as they come.” With a chorus sure to be endlessly stuck in your head for days, ‘Me and Michael’ is the third gem of the album that will have you singing along in no time.
Following the fade out in ‘Me and Michael,’ another incredibly catchy song is born – the abbreviation ‘TSLAMP,’ short for “Time Spent Looking At My Phone,” is the song that will (hopefully) make you the most introspective about your phone usage. Condemningly funny, the lyrics narrate the gloomy plight millenials are all too familiar with, “Find me when the lights go out / Signing in signing out” and hilariously, “Gods descend to take me home / Find me staring at my phone.” With sprinkled in spanish guitar and dial tones, there’s nothing left to do but laugh at the tragedy MGMT have so eloquently portrayed.
‘James,’ a song with almost identical vocals to Ariel Pink, is a sweet tribute to MGMT’s touring guitarist James Richardson written during a day long acid bender, but nonetheless does not fit the overall theme of the album. ‘Days That Got Away,’ on the other hand, snaps the listener back into dystopian cyberspace with a slow rhythm in which the listener feels as if they can vaguely remember those days that got away – probably because of all the time spent looking at their phone. ‘One Thing Left to Try,’ the least memorable song on the album, sounds like the 80s song everyone forgot about, and for good reason. The unoriginal synth matches the angsty lyrics with “Fear is his name but his friends still call him God” and “I don’t wanna die!”
The string of forgettable songs from ‘James’ through ‘One Thing Left to Try’ leads to the stand-out most pathetic song on album, ‘When You’re Small,’ that yet again tanks the album from a solid five out of five to a three out of five light bulbs. When looking up the lyrics, it’s not a coincidence that there so happens to be a Phineas and Ferb song by the same title. The childish lyrics, “When you’re small / You’re not very big at all” and “When you’re small / You can curl up into a ball” sound like they’re straight out of a Disney cartoon. However, lines like “When you’re high / You don’t have to know why” are a triumph for stoned high schoolers sitting in their mom’s basement. The duality within this song is not only childish, but it is quite literally garbage alongside boring piano and guitar chords.
The final song, and saving grace of the album, ‘Hand it Over,’ is the perfect depressing wrap up of the extensive journey MGMT takes the listener through in our modern technological age. VanWyngarden’s somber voice serenades us into accepting that all hope is lost and that “Now there’s only one thing left to do / It’s time to hand it over.” Tragically and effectively using a theatrical metaphor, “The smart ones exit early / And the rest hope for a shoulder,” MGMT ends the album with a powerfully suicidal song.
Overall, MGMT have exquisitely crafted a few songs that caution the listener about the modern day and age but fail to be completely cohesive. With one too many songs that either don’t fit or are complete trash, what could have been an impeccable EP is ultimately a disjointed fourth album.