On their first album in 5 years, MGMT create their most diverse effort to date. Although they had deeply rooted themselves in this progressive, neo-psychedelic sound on Congratulations and the weaker MGMT, the band find a new lease of life on this album. Combining the psychedelic roots which built their success with new mainstream traditions of more polished synth pop, elements of goth revival and the vogue 80s resurrection, they have huge amounts of unexpected variety. Exploring a range of genres and emotions, this reignition of their career is among their best efforts.
The change in style is immediately seen in the opening track, She Works Out Too Much. This vibrant, upbeat pop song full of brassy synths and saxophones is unapologetically in your face. With lyrics surrounding a new Tinder/gym-obsessed culture which they’re knowingly detached from, their fresher, new sound can possibly be considered ironic. However, given their recent career has shown movement towards the subtle to escape their singled-based popularity, it feels like a statement against that, and a fantastic one too. The track TSLAMP (Time Spent Looking At My Phone) echoes the musical and lyrical themes of the opener, offering a more polished alternative to the murky depths of reverb that MGMT have become used to. Expressing dissatisfaction with modern culture once again through showing hatred for the increasing obsession and supreme placement of phones, MGMT have maintained an interesting and surprisingly rather unclichéd attachment to their dislike for pop culture.
This exploration of more mainstream trends can also be seen through diving into our modern 80s obsession, which has reached into modern pop through the likes of CHVRCHES, Carly Rae Jepsen and many more. The move can particularly be seen in Me and Michael, where soaring vocals, glittering synths and that iconic gated reverb snare give off huge Prince vibes. James also carries this 80s effect with high gentle synth keyboards and a French horn used, yet with the sparser instrumental and Andrew’s voice pitched down, it feels very much like an Ariel Pink song (an obvious inspiration as a collaborator on this album). With both concerning platonic same-sex relationships from a very emotional perspective, rather than a Phil Collins cliché, in a way it defines the album’s result, a very individual spin on mainstream traditions.
A more surprising direction on this album, one which perhaps does not get enough attention throughout the album, is entering the gothic revival through the lead single, Little Dark Age. Again, greatly opposing the psychedelic style of their last 2 albums, this adventure into goth pop has sharp, minimalist instrumentals evoking a very eerie, moody tone. Complimenting the lyrics exploring depression, anxiety and an attempted escape from it (the origins of the song and album name), this is perhaps the darkest they’ve ever reached.
Yet, for me, the highlight of the album is perhaps one closest to their origins. The dreamy Hand It Over closes the album perfectly, relishing stunningly in their talents for neo-psychedelia, with reverbed synths creating a beautiful atmospheric soundscape. With the addition of choir vocals, they create this amazing, Flaming Lips-esque melancholic ballad which (although their entire career has been soaked in it) is one of, if not their best, efforts in the genre.
Although I feel like there are weaker moments on this album, such as the very dreary When You’re Small and the abstract, rather out-of-place Days That Got Away, overall, I think it does a very good job at cohesively blending together sounds and themes of all different origins. This album goes from upbeat to subdued, funky to melancholic, offering the most rollercoaster-like experience MGMT have offered so far in their careers. This album is an exciting artistic move and one I hope is a signal of great things to come.
Little Dark Age is out now, via Columbia Records.