You can never go home again, especially when home is your college dorm room. On their fourth LP, the studio scientists of MGMT do a great job evoking the fizzy, dizzy New Wave psychedelia of mid-00s hits like “Kids” and “Electric Feel,” songs the duo cooked up while still at school at Wesleyan University. With their mix of poker-faced irony, lightly exotic sonics and neo-hippie whimsy, those songs, from MGMT’s debut LP, 2007’s Oracular Spectacular, helped make indie-pop a brighter place, and you could hear them echoed in hipster bands like Local Natives and Yeasayer as well as Top 40 opportunists like Foster the People. But their next two albums – 2010’s acridly titled Congratulations and 2013’s MGMT – were detours in space-rock experimentation that dwindled their fanbase, even if their Flaming Lips/Floyd indulgences were actually kind of cool.
MGMT are back to their roots on Little Dark Age, with concise tunes built from cushy keyboard beats and cute, kiting melodies. “Me and Michael” and “James” luxuriate in openhearted Eighties-synth romanticism, while the caustically pretty “When You Die” re-imagines the Mamas & the Papas as cranky black-sunglasses droogies: “I’m ready to blow my brains out tonight,” they intone. Other songs, like the bath time-for-Cylons exotica dreamweave “Days That Got Away,” fuse the zonked interiority of their last two LPs with Oracular‘s amiable groove-drift. “One Thing Left to Try’ is the only song that’s quite as catchy as their early high points. But there’s a welcome new wrinkle here: “She Works Out Too Much” and “TSLMP” (a.k.a. “time spent looking at my phone”) are funny, bemusedly cranky parodies of modern screen-obsessed solipsism. A more self-serious band might deliver the same message with dour urgency. They do it with a wink, making ironic detachment seem like a totally acceptable way to keep yourself from going nuts in 2018.