MGMT’s ‘Little Dark Age’ is an 80s throwback

Henry Netherland

MGMT has always kept fans on their toes.

Courtesy of iTunes

The duo trolled the music industry in 2010 when they released “Congratulations,” an experimental departure from the more traditional pop music they released earlier in the decade. Afterwards, they would go on to release their worst received album, “MGMT” in 2013. Now five years, later the boys are back with their usual psych-pop style on “Little Dark Age,” but this time they are throwing it back to the glorious days of 1980s synth-pop.

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The album’s opener, “She Works Out Too Much” is an experimental psychedelic take on 80’s synth-pop with an athletic twist. The song describes the failing relationship between a man and his exercise loving girlfriend. The uncredited female singer and lead singer, Andrew VanWyngarden execute a perfect call-and-response style chorus. The song operates at the perfect opener for what to expect on the rest of the album.

“When You Die” is probably the most energetic song in the tracklisting, which is not really saying that much. While the synths are present, the acoustic guitars play the most prominent instrumental role. The shouty vocals on the verses compliment the gorgeous guitar riffs perfectly.

“Me and Michael” is where the 80’s influence really begin to shine through. It sounds like it would fit perfectly into an 80’s prom playlist. The shimmering synths contrast with these almost gothic vocals giving the tune an enjoyable, eerie sound.

“TSLAMP” is where I feel the most torn on the whole album. In one respect, the track has an infectious rhythm from these tribal-like drums. On the other hand, the chorus lacks a distinct melody that prevents me from outwardly enjoying it. This is a shame because not only are the rhythms catchy, but the track also has some of the most thought-provoking lyrics on the entire record.

I’m wondering where the hours went
As I’m losing consciousness
My sullen face is all aglow
Time spent looking at my phone”

Normally, I ignore faux-philosophical arguments condescendingly criticizing the audience of how they are wasting their lives looking at their smartphone screens instead of their surrounding environment. However, on “TSLAMP,” there is a genuine feeling of depression and concern after contemplating the lack of in-person communication and technology-free activities in contemporary society.

Unfortunately, once the song, “James,” arrives, the album begins to fall off. To put it bluntly, this song is boring. The instrumental is good and the melody is not the worst thing I have ever heard, but the vocals are deprived of any passion. The song is pleasant to listen to, but almost nothing is engaging about it.

“Days That Got Away” is a near five minute instrumental track with only a brief refrain interjecting itself every so often. Normally, I would expect this to be a slog to listen to, but the song had some good melodies and chord progressions throughout the song.

Besides “Days That Got Away,” the second-half of “Little Dark Age” is littered with filler tracks. “One Thing Left to Try” also features a female vocalist, however, her voice is much harsher and her melodies clash with the instrumental. The last two songs, “When You’re Small” and “Hand It Over” are similar to “James” in terms of being slow-paced and generally boring. There is a haunting quality to the vocals as usual, but the songs do not progress into anything interesting.

Despite the majority of the songs being over four minutes on average, none of them really overstay their welcome. Yes, some of the songs towards the backend are somewhat patience-testing, but they are easy to tune out of and use as background music. The worst a track will come to is passable, but unengaging.

Aside from being heavily frontloaded, the album’s biggest flaw is its melodies which can occasionally be flat and lifeless. Fortunately, the chord progressions are usually decent enough to overcome the album’s shortcomings.

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Should you listen to it? Probably

“Little Dark Age” marks an interesting point in MGMT’s discography. Throughout this album, there is a specific sound the band is focused on. And overall, the duo accomplishes making the project uniform, but not one-note. I can understand why this album might not be appealing at first listen. In the beginning, I was incredibly underwhelmed, but with every additional listen, the project grew on me. The album is slow-paced, but if you take the time to appreciate the multiple directions every song you will enjoy it.

Best songs: “When You Die,” “Me and Michael,” “Days That Got Away,” “She Works Out Too Much”

Worst song: “James”

Available on iTunes and Spotify

Collegian reporter Henry Netherland can be reached at entertainment@.com or on Twitter @NetherlandHenry.