Perfectly balancing on the tightrope between peculiar and pop
“The band changed the face of pop music forever,” Beats 1’s Zane Lowe asserted as he prepared to drop MGMT‘s first track in four years. He was, of course, referring to the day-glo hooks of their 2007 accessible psych-pop debut ‘Oracular Spectacular‘. Whether you agree with that statement or not, one thing you can’t argue with is that record’s undying brilliance – put any of its 10 tracks on now and they still sound like as much of a rush as when you first heard them. But while that album has been celebrating its 10th year in existence, fans have been waiting for the band to return from the wilds with something new – their long-awaited fourth album, originally promised last year.
‘Little Dark Age’, the first song (and title track) of their upcoming record, isn’t quite a return to the sound of the likes of ‘Kids‘ or ‘Electric Feel‘. Despite society’s current seemingly constant need to live in a rose-tinted world of nostalgia, that’s a good thing. Instead, it’s something that welds MGMT’s different dimensions together – the fun one, the weird one, the timeless one – and makes something undeniably brilliant.
It’s an understated slow burner, but once it’s got you in its grasp, there’s no escaping it. Keyboardist Ben Goldwasser told Lowe the band were dancing around to it in the recording studio when they finished making it, adding “It feels good to make music that’s fun”, suggesting they feel very much the same. If you’ve seen MGMT at any of the US festivals they’ve played over the summer (or have been fervently keeping an eye on grainy smartphone footage on YouTube), you’ll likely have had the same reaction.
A hunking, cold slab of metallic synth-pop, it’s built around a constantly revolving keyboard loop and a subtly funky bassline – a sci-fi gem that naviagtes the tightrope between peculiar and pop. Frontman Andrew VanWyngarden delivers gloomy lines like “The feelings start to rot/One week at a time” and the cursory warning “Just know that if you hide/It doesn’t go away” in stiff monotone, like a space-rock android homesick for his own futuristic world, voice almost bending to emotion but not quite. Later, there’s a breakdown that sounds like it was taken both from the baroque period and from a time yet to come where everything sounds like its coated in platinum or surrounded by Tron-esque neon blue lights. In other words, it’s exactly what we want MGMT to be – sonic astronauts bringing deft, danceable tunes back from their missions into outer worlds. Now, let’s hope they hurry up with that album.