MGMT are a little young to be turning into tired old men. Yet, on the duo’s fourth studio album Little Dark Age, co-band leaders Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser sound as if a lot is weighing them down: the current political climate (according to them, the title is meant to be reassuring that this bleak period will only be a tiny one), our tech addictions, regretting one’s wasted time and modern dating.
It’s a lot of bitter pills to swallow in one go. But stroking our necks to make the medicine go down is some of the band’s most dreamy and druggy music to date. Working again with Dave Fridmann and with some key assists from likeminded popster Ariel Pink and MGMT touring member James Richardson, the album feels like it’s alternately melting and lifting, warming and woozy.
Because of the music, the messages though may be hard to take that seriously, which is surely the point. “TSLAMP,” where the pair gently chide themselves for getting far too engrossed in their mobiles (the title acronym expands to “Time Spent Looking At My Phone”), is given a loopy backdrop of faltering synths, a Phil Manzanera-like effected guitar solo and vocals pitched up to cartoony levels. They clearly don’t actually expect us to do anything about our addictions to swiping and tapping. The same mood drifts through “Days That Got Away,” a drunken stumble of disappointment at those unmemorable hours that easily slip from memory. The gravity of this sentiment doesn’t hit as hard when it’s played back on what sounds like a Patrice Rushen album that has been left out in the sun too long.
The juxtaposition of these two moods is a fun thing to experience. But it’s not difficult to notice just how much more powerful Little Dark Age can be when the music matches the lyrics. The last two tracks on the album—”When You’re Small” and “Hand It Over”—are the perfect comedown, wafting into view with messages of nostalgia and letting go lightly.
In that respect, Little Dark Age is sequenced perfectly. It slowly and steadily comes into focus over the course of its running time. That may feel a little sneaky, letting listeners finally get their sea legs before fading to black. But isn’t that spirit we’ve come to anticipate with MGMT? They are the band that notably left “Kids” off of their Coachella set list, leading many commentators to wonder if they hate their fans. That ain’t necessarily so. Though they don’t want to do all the work for them, they give them enough sweetness and beauty in their work to engage the maximum number of listeners. They want you in their corner. All they ask is that you slip this treat under your tongue and hang on tight. It’s gonna be a wild ride.