American electro-rock duo MGMT’s fourth album, Little Dark Age is a pop-based excursion into synth-based, modern psychedelic sounds. It’s a bright, dreamy recording that starts shallow and gets deeper song by song.
The duo (Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser) have impressive arranging skills, maximizing the potential of fitting lightweight and offbeat sounds together to make eccentric songs (When You Die). They take the duo format to an extreme, using close collaboration and multi-instrumental skills with an instinctive ease with electronics to roam free in the studio. That easy familiarity results in lush, cushiony records like Little Dark Age.
Little Dark Age appears at first to fall prey to the fate suffered by electronic devotees in that the tones and dynamics sound one dimensional. This sound changes by the mid-album point with TSLAMP.
While the songs were solid and entertaining in a slack fashion earlier, they were ear candy. After the half way point they darken and get riskier. These dynamic shifts aid tracks like Days That Got Away, they get a jazzy vibe with synthesizers and guitars taking the song down a jam-driven path. Other duos like Daft Punk and Broken Bells have shown how much can be done with a minimum of people and a maximum of equipment. The results are a sensible compromise of inspiration and utility, with less personalities in the way of reaching the end product. It’s also an incentive for outside collaboration (When You’re Small).
Little Dark Age has the easy pull of ear candy and the glow of deep cuts like Hand It Over nestled in the glossy sounds.
–Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician who reviews the latest music releases in his column, Street Sounds.