Little Dark Age is MGMT-lite.
If you don’t know what that means, needn’t bother looking it up. Anyone who likes this electro-rock band’s sound will already be familiar with them because they’re some of the most popular proponents of it; everyone else can move along.
Contrary to MGMT’s past work, the lyrics boast more noticeable artistry than the producing, with the caveat that the former works so well due to how their content juxtaposes the sound of the latter. Much like Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” the music significantly contrasts the lyrics in the album’s best songs, including the title track — with its hints of foreboding darkness brimming under the disco surface — “Tslamp” — a depressing ode to how much of our lives we now miss because we’re staring at our phones; the relationship between MGMT’s electronic and rock influences parallels its exploration of the digital vs. real world — and especially “When You Die,” the highlight of Little Dark Age:
A sentiment like “Baby, I’m ready, I’m ready, ready, ready to blow my brains out” is an odd match with the uplifting melodies, which is the point. Not only does the mismatch call that much more attention to the words — which often get lost in MGMT’s heavily-produced soundscapes — it also captures how the darkest aspects of ourselves and life itself are often obscured by cheery veneers. The album’s name and cover art connect to this theme: “little” lightens the dismal magnitude of “dark age”, and the sunny yellow and quaintly hand-drawn cartoon depict a rather creepy image.
Perhaps this general interpretation of the album justifies the simplicity of the producing, but it still comes off as a bit too light in its dynamic complexity; I was never as immersed nor engaged as I usually am in MGMT’s musical compositions, no matter the depths of their intellectual probing.