Little Dark Ages, MGMT, Columbia Records, $11.89
The narrative around the duo MGMT is well known: College friends stumble into a few fluke hits and capture a generational mix of youthful exuberance and modern ennui. They rocket to stardom, only to spend the next two albums kicking against everything that fans, critics, and their record company expect of them. One look at their first three albums’ declining streaming numbers on Spotify—2013’s MGMT has just four per cent the plays of their 2007 debut confirms that the band’s fan base has steadily winnowed.
But, if MGMT’s first album in four years — Little Dark Age — gets addictive, there’s a good reason for it. One song was apparently created during a real acid trip. If that’s what it takes to get the creative juices flowing for bandmates Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser, we’re fine with it.
The 10-track collection veers from cheeky (She Works Out Too Much) to pitch-black (When You Die). The opening She Works Out Too Much shows just how much the duo has evolved in a relatively short time. Slathered in jazzy chords and funk bass, it’s almost unrecognisable as MGMT. Ostensibly, it’s a song about dating-app fatigue. The chorus is a he-said/she-said battle of gym memberships. A vocoded voice in the chorus sounds like it’s singing Destroy. The whole thing is absurd, and far more fun than it has any reason to be. It’s also a good kickstart for what follows.
They go goth on Little Dark Age, a synth-heavy dirge that sounds like a B-side to Gary Numan’s Cars. On When You Die,they ponder the void (It’s permanently night/And I won’t feel anything) over a breezy tune that sounds almost like Metronomy, and the contrast between the song’s suicidal urges and chipper mood is what makes it engaging. Me and Michael is a note-perfect rendering of a mid-’80s John Hughes soundtrack, a mode they pick up again on One Thing Left to Try. And Days That Got Away, the album’s lone instrumental, poses a dubby thought experiment: What if chillwave still existed in 2018, and didn’t suck?
Little Dark Age is an album about certainties dissolving. “Welcome to the shit-show/Grab a comfortable seat,” VanWyngarden sings in the very first song, pretty much summing up the second half of the current decade. Toward the end of the LP, When You’re Small makes a compelling argument for strategic downsizing: When you’re small/You don’t have very far to fall.”