Psych-pop duo go method on acid-fuelled fourth.
MGMT have reacquired their synth-pop mojo. With their 2008 debut album Oracular Spectacular, the Brooklynbased duo scaled dizzy heights of Transatlantic success. Their track Kids was a worldwide hit, its themes of childhood innocence mirrored by a simple melody that even a toddler could whistle. Refusing to follow it up with more of the same, singer/guitarist Andrew VanWyngarden and keyboard maestro Ben Goldwasser duly cut two “success freak-out” albums, characterised by scathing lyrics and music that seemed to purposely avoid any chance of a sing-along. These didn’t sell so well, but, four years on from 2013’ s unhappy MGMT LP, the October release of new track Little Dark Age signalled a return to form, thanks to its plaintive chorus, majestic synth-scaping and lavishly wacko ’ 80s- style promo video. “It’s funny,” says VanWyngarden, down the line from his new home in the Rockaway Beach neighbourhood of New York, “when we were doing the last album, we kept talking about wanting to make pop songs, but it just wasn’t happening, like we had to get this other stuff out. That album’s very anxietyfilled. Maybe doing it allowed us to get where we got to with the new one, which is more relaxed. We’re both really happy that that’s what came out this time.” After a fallow 2015, in which Goldwasser relocated to Los Angeles, work on this fourth outing, also called Little Dark Age, commenced in early 2016 at Goldwasser’s new studio on the West Coast. “It’s a tiny room packed full of vintage synthesizers I bought on Craigslist,” enthuses Goldwasser, an unapologetically geeky synth wizard, from his new home. As a mediator between their often-conflicting energies, they hired in co-producer Patrick Wimberly from New York electro-pop duo Chairlift, who encouraged them to invite over potential collaborators. These included Kiwi psychrock dreamer Connan Mockasin, and Los Angeles avant-garde rocker Ariel Pink, who duly wrote the queasy verse lyrics for the guitar-enhanced When You Die (sample
lines, “Go fuck yourself/You heard me right/Don’t call me nice again”).
“We’re both more excited than we have been for a long time. We’ve really tried to connect with people on this record.” BEN GOLDWASSER
“In about four minutes,” VanWyngarden reveals, “Ariel had this piece of paper, incorporating things we’d just been saying in the hallway. When I sang them, it was like, ‘Yeah, why not? Why can’t this be the lyrics?’ For me that was really liberating, rather than sitting there like a poet, scratching out lines for days, trying to find some deep, multiple-meaning thing.” When not visiting each other, they’d work via email: VanWyngarden recalls how another song, James, came about when, to stimulate creativity, he and Wimberly dropped “what we were calling a microdose of acid”, but which – d’oh! – turned out to be more like a full dose. “I spent hours screaming at the top of my lungs about Pakistan,” he recalls. This wasn’t going anywhere productive, until, out of the blue, Goldwasser pinged over a loop, and the two trippers completed the track that day, with VanWyngarden finding low notes beneath his usual vocal range, “just because I’d been screaming all day”. Possibly the album’s big song, Me And Michael, arrived thanks to the duo rediscovering their shared love of European synth-pop. Initially, VanWyngarden had its chorus as “me and my girl”. “Then I was like, ‘That’s so boring and cheesy, let’s make it ‘me and Michael’,’ which developed into this ambiguous story, and we really liked that – writing a catchy song that gets you pumped-up, but you have no idea what the message is.” This is MGMT at their best: converting zany in-jokes into pop gold. Wrapping up the album with long-standing co-producer Dave Fridmann, they emerged confident for its prospects. “We’re both more excited about being in this band than we have been for a long time,” says an uncharacteristically effusive Goldwasser. “We’ve really tried to connect with people on this record, so it’d be really rewarding to see the songs reach people, and live a life.” MGMT have always been at their best embracing communal euphoria. They’re heading out of the darkness, and into the light.
“Converting zany in-jokes into pop gold”: Andrew VanWyngarden works his magic on MGMT’s new album.
Ben Goldwasser: “Let’s see what this knob does…”