It was easy to tell from the get-go with their debut album, Oracular Spectacular, that MGMT was a band of pioneers if nothing else.
Their following releases, Congratulations and MGMT, offered fewer pop hits, yet the same brand of pioneering experimentation they originally branded themselves with. This experimentation seemed indicative of MGMT’s need to pave their own road — a distaste for, or an unwillingness to settle down into just one genre.
The group functioning as inter-genre nomads is a double-edged sword. It can be exciting to be unsure of what they’ll do next, but it can also be tiresome of waiting for them to truly define their sound. Each album captures a taste of their venture further down the rabbit-hole of psychedelia.
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Their 2013 release, MGMT, offered fans their own brand of true psychedelia, but still seemed rather touch-and-go, and is a far cry from Oracular Spectacular’s hits, like “Electric Feel” and “Kids.”
Little Dark Age, however, makes fans believe MGMT has finally found Wonderland after dredging through the rabbit hole of psychedelia for their past three albums. It offers a breath of fresh air, and it says their 11 years of experimentation has granted them the wisdom to know what sound they want to produce.
While under a microscope with 2013’s MGMT, which was generally positively reviewed, but it still offered messier instrumentals and less coherent structuring. Little Dark Age feels intentional, and every track offers a slightly different flavor of that intentionality. It captures the chaos of psychedelia in a clean-cut way that 2013’s MGMT simply wasn’t able to do.
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Little Dark Age’s jubilant vintage synths contrast with distant, murky vocals to create an unusually pleasant experience. The album starts off with perhaps its peppiest track — “She Works Out Too Much” — which feels like a workout class on LSD, and does an excellent job of setting the tone for the rest of the album.
“I’m going off the deep end. Time to let myself go,” is heard on this track. It’s easy to miss the darker lyrics in these songs amidst the zest of the instrumentals. Don’t expect a lyrical essay or a long-winded commentary on songs’ subject matters. There’s one thing MGMT has maintained consistently across their albums: simplistic lyrics.
This really shines through in “When You’re Small.” “When you’re small, you’re not very big at all,” sings frontman Andrew VanWyngarden in a very David Gilmour-esque fashion. “When You’re Small” feels like more of an intermission than anything else, with raw double-tracked vocals and drab, bare instrumentals that sharply contradict the rest of the album.
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It shouldn’t come to anyone’s surprise when listening to Little Dark Age that lo-fi hypnagogic pop artist Ariel Pink appears accredited in multiple tracks on the album. The resemblance between Ariel Pink’s music and Little Dark Age’s tracks is very apparent and seems somewhat contributory towards the fact that Little Dark Age feels much more aware of what it wants to be.
The singles released prior the the album — “When You Die,” “Hand it Over” and “Little Dark Age” — offer a glimpse into the high points of the album. But, make no mistake, they’re not the only ones that do so. “Me and Michael” and “James” are dense synth-pop singles that might even do the album more justice than its singles.
MGMT’s discography is an adventure in and of itself. At some points, it may feel touch-and-go, but it’s constantly improving. It may not know where it’s going, but it’s pioneering and experimenting its way upwards. Little Dark Age is the amalgamation of everything MGMT has released before it, and it shows.