After Congratulations (2010) and MGMT (2013), two albums that were seen as deliberate moves to shake off the commercial success of their debut Oracular Spectacular (2007), MGMT have returned with an album that again picks up more accessible pop threads – with strong results. The duo's left-of-centre weirdness is present, but there's a more focused energy on Little Dark Age that streamlines their musical genius into energising funk, pop, and dance tracks.
After a year in which a long list of artists tried to make sense of the Trumpian era – and the seeming hopelessness of it all – MGMT are aiming for a different take. The album's title hints at the idea of temporary despair; that sadness can feel like an omnipresent, permanent state, when in reality, all things are limited.
This carries through on the sprightly, to-hell-with-it sounds on Little Dark Age, but there's often an undercurrent of darkness, which MGMT have become known for in their songwriting. On the title track, vocalist Andrew VanWyngarden sings: "Just know that if you hide, it doesn't go away," a line that resonates in a world of 24-hour news cycles and constant noise. Their lyrical strength is inconsistent, however; there are two songs, She Works Out Too Much and TSLAMP, which lament modern technology in rather rusty, on-the-nose terms.
Me and Michael is the album's most obvious pop single, a treat for fans of the same slow-tempo dance style of their radio hit Kids. It's an infectious track, but the album is even more rewarding when they slow things down further, such as on the ambient space jam Days That Got Away. The same is to be said of album closer Hand It Over, a downtempo delight that echoes Unknown Mortal Orchestra. The song, apparently about Donald Trump's election, finishes on a timeless question: "If we lose our touch, it won't mean much/If everyone's confused, which door do we open?" MGMT may have lost touch over their last two albums, but Little Dark Age opens up a promising new door.
MGMT, Little Dark Age
Little Dark Age
After running away from their pop successes, MGMT return with maturity