Psychedelic pop group MGMT released their fourth album Feb. 9 this year. Going into my first listen of “Little Dark Age,” I really had no idea what to expect. Their first album, “Oracular Spectacular,” introduced indie pop fans to an innovative, psychedelic pop group with the rare talent to make compelling, radio-friendly music that also pushes the boundaries of their genre.
Singles like “Electric Feel,” “Time to Pretend,” and “Kids,” all still grace the radio to this day, and are an important part of any 2000s pop playlist. For their second album, “Congratulations,” the band doubled down on the psychedelia. Abandoning the dancey, energetic sounds of “Oracular Spectacular,” MGMT instead gave us a collection of slow, spacey, and more interesting songs. The group returned in 2013 with a self-titled record that felt similar to their successful sophomore endeavor, but lacked nearly all of the punch. To call the record mild would be an understatement.
Taking all of this into consideration, I had relatively low expectations going into “Little Dark Age,” but I was very pleased to be proven wrong. The album’s opener, “She Works Out Too Much,” immediately pulled me in with its interesting synths and inventive sampling of workout videos. The song quickly establishes the 80’s nostalgia that pours through nearly every song on “Little Dark Age.”
Many of the songs on this record could easily pass for Tears for Fears cuts, and if I had heard this album without knowing who sang it, I might be fooled into believing so. Another clear influence is baroque-pop icon Ariel Pink, who appears in the background vocals of this track, has synthesizer credit on it and has writing credit on the title track.
Speaking of the title track, “Little Dark Age” brings us a goth-inspired ballad about keeping a dark secret. The driving synth beat combined with VanWyngarden’s droning vocal delivery evokes “Faith”–era The Cure, but with a slicker pop feel. This sound worked so well that I wish it appeared anywhere else on the record, but the rest of the songs stand so strong that I can’t complain.
Another highlight off this record is the single “When You Die,” which manages to sneak into my head nearly every day. The song is psychedelic and haunting, and the music video is fantastic. Ariel Pink’s guitar work is very noticeable on this record, and it goes without saying that if you like this record you should really seek out some of his work. All of his solo albums are worth listening to, but my favorite is 2014’s “Pom Pom.”
My main worry with “Little Dark Age” was, because it is so overproduced, it would start to get on my nerves after repeated listens. MGMT really delivers on this one however. The album reminds me of Kanye’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” in the respect that the production is so grandiose and lavish that despite having a lot going on, it never feels busy.
I worried that I would quickly lose interest in this album, but I’ve had it on repeat since it was released and it holds up every time. My only complaint is that the middle of the record sometimes struggles to live up to the fantastic start and finish, so perhaps it could have done with a rearrangement. I only have that complaint because the highs on this album are so high, though. “Little Dark Age” is an easy 9/10, and is on my list as the second best release of 2018 so far.