In 2007, Connecticut-born Indie-Rock duo MGMT (made up of multi-instrumentalists Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser) released their spell-binding debut Oracular Spectacular. Simmering with synth-laden poppy beats and gorgeous neo-psychedelic vocals, the band were soon catapulted into the mainstream with stadium hits like ‘Kids’, ‘Time to Pretend’ and the sultry ‘Electric Feel’. Indeed, Oracular felt at the time like the peak of a formative moment in the evolution of alternative rock. Gone was the spacey, brooding melancholia of NY Indie rock darlings like Interpol and LCD Soundsystem who had dominated the scene in the early 2000s, and in were a new wave of peppy, yet dense, records like Neon Bible and Vampire Weekend. It was as if the world was daring to party again.
Flash forward a decade, and while MGMT’s fame and reputation may have dwindled a little, their newest record Little Dark Age proves that they’re no less inspired, if a little more introspective and muted. The album’s aesthetic – a stripped back, baritone meditation on freedom, agency and arrogance – cuts deep. Leaving the listener questioning their sense of self long after their virgin listen. Oracular Spectacular it is not.
The titular lead single ‘Little Dark Age’ is perhaps the best example of this. The retro 80s synths and groovy, almost gothic bass lines are undoubtedly vintage MGMT. Yet with that comes forlorn lyrics about secrecy and isolation (‘just know that if you hide / it doesn’t go away‘) and a punctuated looping drum sample that feels more akin to Joy Division than the vibrant neo-psychedelia the band were famous for. Equally, the bossa nova ‘TSLAMP’ offers a forthright yet fittingly ‘what-even-is-the-point’ style indictment of smartphone addiction that feels as artificially sanguine as ol’ Zuckerberg himself. Both express a shared epiphany at the capricious state of the new world order – where tweets and Tinder bios are supposed to tell you more about a persons’ character than sincere conversation ever could.
ORACULAR SPECTACULAR IT IS NOT
Still, such experimentation and naval-gazing never feels overbearing – with there being an impressive array of esoteric and swirling melodies peppered throughout that manage to compliment the dark subject matter deftly. The emphatic and almost polemical ‘When you Die’, for example, has enough chirpy arpeggios and fist-pumping ‘yeah’s to rile up a stadium crowd. Yet pervading this is a constant reminder that all of us, whatever our delusions of grandeur, as the title suggests, are going to end up in a hole in the ground someday. The ethereal closer ‘Hand It Over’, meanwhile, revels in similar nihilistic sentiments. After all, what kind of 2018 album would it be without oblique references to The Donald and political antipathy?
Little Dark Age’s USP (ironically like many of the best albums of the last two years) is just how the individual is just supposed to come to terms with some of the more peculiar machinations of the world we live in. And they pull it off with plenty aplomb. Indeed, the weird, almost banal intonations like ‘welcome to the shitshow‘ and ‘go fuck yourself / I’m mean not nice‘ do a superfluous job in revelling in the surrealness of it all – rather than trying to rise above it. Is it en par with Oracular Spectacular? Not quite. But it pulls off a sophisticated societal commentary over a brisk 44 minutes that the MGMT of 2007 could only have dreamed of. And that’s worthy of Congratulations.