Life is meaningless but ‘Little Dark Age’ is good

October 19, 2018

“Go fuck yourself, you heard me right.” This January, MGMT released their fourth studio album “Little Dark Age.” The album is heavy in retro synth-funk and psych-rocks sounds, and lead singer Andrew VanWyngarden’s lyrics are the most absurd they’ve ever been. The album feels like being Mario in Super Mario Galaxy and is the most complete project MGMT has ever put together.

“Look who’s bending over.” MGMT is, of course, most famous for their psych pop ballads from 2008: “Time to Pretend,” “Electric Feel” and “Kids.” Most people are at least familiar with one of those three, sometimes two. Ask anyone if they’ve heard any of their other songs and the answer is no 90 percent of the time. This is likely a result of the shortcomings of their debut album “Oracular Spectacular” and the inaccessibility of their previous two projects “Congratulations” and their self-titled release. On “Little Dark Age,” VanWyngarden and bandmate Ben Goldwasser are at the most commercial they’ve been since their debut while turning up the dial on the insanity.

“It’s not a question now.” At 10 tracks and 44 minutes, this album is a similar length to previous releases, but this is the first release where every track feels essential. Even the instrumental track “Days That Got Away” feels like a necessary break, transitioning the album into a much more somber and desperate ending with “When You’re Small” and “Hand It Over.” There’s no sounds on this album that seem overwhelming like the overcompressed tracks of “MGMT.” Instead, LDA is a lineup of groovy songs with unique quirks that feel like fine details on an intricate tapestry.

“Welcome to the shitshow.” From the jump, this album slaps you with how ridiculous it is. The beginning track “She Works Out Too Much” finds Andrew trapped in a relationship where his partner will break up with him if he doesn’t work out with him/her. On “Tslamp,” Andrew portrays someone at the gates of heaven on their cell phone and on the chorus, the phone’s perspective. Instead of portraying your Tucker-Carlson-watching uncle’s opinion, we are given a toxic love song about “never letting you die,” “finding the time,” and “finding me when the lights go down.”

“Even if you choose to believe it’s empty, you’ll come back to me again, you can go ahead and stop pretending.” And the list goes on. If you were to just read the lyrics to “When You Die” you would think the song would have an aggressive sound to it. But instead, quotes like “I’m gonna eat your heart out” are accompanied with an instrumental that sounds closer to “Yellow Submarine” than “Frankie Teardrop.” The music video to “Me and Michael” sees MGMT hit it big after stealing a Filipino artist’s song, get exposed, hit rock bottom and then Michael Buscemi pulls his testicles out of his stomach.That’s probably the best example I can offer you of what this album is like.

“The fun is over.” Let’s be clear, the album is absurd, but it’s not pointless. The title track’s themes of fear, anxiety and exposure are all prevalent throughout the album. “When You’re Small” is an intense look at the feeling of failure. With the context being MGMT’s fall to obscurity, the band takes solace in the fact that “When you’re small…you feel like you belong… you can curl into a ball.” Behind all of the album’s antics there is a very real sense of desperation. Imagery of engine failures, being alone on a stage and running from the police all paint a tense picture. At times the ridiculousness of the human condition is offered as response. But there is no silver bullet to anxiety and the ultimate answer remains unclear.

“You die and words don’t do anything.” If it’s not pointless, what does it mean, Chris? I don’t know. This album is very intentionally ambiguous. “Me and Michael” is, according to the band, just a song about an ambiguous relationship. Who is Michael? Why is it not a question now? What was the question? Why are they solid as they come? The song “James” is much of the same. Who is James? Why does VanWyngarden keep calling him “my little doll?” Why can they both say “who’s laughing now?” Does it even matter who James is? I’m not sure if any of it matters. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe MGMT doesn’t think so either.

“I don’t want to die.” LDA is an absurdist look at anxiety and failure. It’s an accessible albeit vague album with no shortage of entertainment value. Whether it’s the humor in the title track or the solace of taking things back into your own hands in “Hand It Over,” MGMT gives listeners a lot to work with in 45 minutes. Everything is neatly packaged with quality production and sing-along friendly choruses so you and your friends can all belt out in unison “we’ll all be laughing with you when you die.”

 

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