Friday, February 9, 2018

MGMT - Little Dark Age Review

Four and a half years ago everyone declared MGMT dead. An amusing, if not grim statement given the LP that drilled the final nail in the coffin was a declarative self-titled, an album title used to either mark a debut or legitimize a new direction. While the latter was true in MGMT's case, it was one few desired, seeking the ardor of their dazzling Psychedelic Pop over the needlessness of the group striving to escape it. For once in their career, one that dates back a full decade to their launching point Oracular Spectacular, the pairing of Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser finally connect the want and the need, band aspiration and fan satisfaction. The result is Little Dark Age, an album that remains embedded in MGMT's oppressive psychedelics, while paying homage to an era of 80's SynthPop that finds the duo exploring fresh soil they so often seek. All with a necessary link to their intrinsic Pop sensibilities.

Room-lit candles, oversized gramophones, birds of death, haunted mansions, sexualized teenagers, magicians, poisoned fruits, and VanWyngarden embodying a troubled Robert Smith. This is MGMT's Little Dark Age. One spelled out, in medieval font, across the gravestone of the lead single's music video. Enlightened by the works of the Romantic Period, indebted to the 1980's reimagined version called New Romanic, glossed over by the duo's sterling knack for synth-driven melody, not only is 'Little Dark Age' their new album's zenith, it's also one of MGMT's best Pop songs to date. With stiff competition like 'Kids,' 'Time To Pretend,' and 'Flash Delirium,' that's saying something significant. VanWyngarden's demanding presence on the hook, one that's both overwhelming and enthralling, never relents despite a flurry of synths ping-ponging along while the words themselves constantly fluctuate to accommodate his mood shifts. Nothing on MGMT, apart from 'Introspection,' which itself was merely a word-for-word cover of Faine Jade's single of the same name, reached the addictive apex of 'Little Dark Age.'

While the effeminate New Romance period drives Little Dark Age, one that's accentuated by two love songs, 'Me And Michael' and 'James,' that star male counterparts, another spot of influence most certainly comes into play. Ariel Pink, and namely his kooky yet endearing Hypnagogic Pop. Right from the get-go, on the chipper 'She Works Out Too Much,' this comparison is evident, as the thought of a relationship falling apart due to a pair whose workout regime exists on opposite sides of the spectrum sounds right up Pink's songwriting alley. With an adorable trainer mumbling motivational cues, a la Kanye West's 'New Workout Plan,' 'She Works Out Too Much' borrows from pom pom's deep cuts, like 'Sexual Athletics' and 'One Summer Night,' that hinged themselves on deranged joviality. It doesn't end there, as the cell phone complex of 'Tslamp' recalls 'Put Your Number In My Phone,' while VanWyngarden's fragile vocals on 'James' commits to the idealized reality check of 'Another Weekend.' It's a pairing that works with splendor and grace, and one that'll appeal to a wider audience considering MGMT never goes full-blown Pink with it.

Like each MGMT album before it, Little Dark Age is short and to the point. There's no overarching theme, as the glittering liaison of 'Me And Michael' comes before 'Tslamp's' criticism of cell phone dependency, after 'When You Die's' ruthless hatred. A single that, should be noted, features the brilliant line "go fuck yourself. I'm mean, not nice." The lyric relishes on 'When You Die,' despite the lack of quality, because of the track's grave overtones elsewhere, something that's not present on the weak 'When You're Small.' The crawling crooner suffers from being overly simplistic, as evident by lines like: "When you're small, you can curl into a ball, when you're small, you're not very big at all." It represents the worst of Little Dark Age, along with the instrumental 'Days That Got Away,' which sounds like a Tame Impala or Unknown Mortal Orchestra cover of MGMT's other instrumental piece, 'Lady Gaga's Nightmare,' off Congratulations. Sandwiched between these two is the brooding synth foundation of 'One Thing Left To Try,' which finds VanWyngarden peaking with a falsetto before subverting expectations with a marvelous bridge that uses Dan Deacon's autotune work to maximal effect.

All that being said, the pros of Little Dark Age far outweigh the cons. It's not MGMT's best work, that's still awarded to the psychedelic utopia of Congratulations, but it nestles comfortably into second place. Unlike on their self-titled, MGMT proved throughout Little Dark Age that catchiness and accessibility don't need to be sacrificed when shaping one's artistic integrity. Here, they've created arguably their most cohesive project thematically, whilst releasing numerous hits that would surely catch the radio's attention had they not forsaken the group years ago. 'Little Dark Age,' 'When You Die,' 'She Works Out Too Much,' 'Me & Michael,' 'One Thing Left To Try' all examples of the two-tone compromise MGMT puts forth. Rich in aesthetic and detail, yet content with appealing to the masses, Little Dark Age is a work only possible from those who've experienced both sides of the equation.

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