MGMT returns from hiatus to embrace the loss of life

The duo that make up MGMT are no longer starry-eyed undergrads. It’s been 17 years, to be exact, since their first project, “Oracular Spectacular.” Gone are those salad days of electric feels and poppy, psych-club hits. That much is apparent in their fifth studio album, “Loss of Life.” 

They’ve traded their previous declarations of “live fast, die young” for a sober humility, lamenting more cautiously than before, “Here’s the thing about drugs / They’ll sink your mind / and steal your friends.” 

Granted, this change was earned over years of anarchic sprinting, then eventually stumbling, through the once drug-laden glaze of youthful abandon, but MGMT has earned their say in this matter, fair and square.  

The inscrutable growing pains of years gone by leave their mark across all 10 songs. The duo has embraced the loss that life gifts. Their pain is double-sided, a great teacher, who with specks of gray hair sheds light on what burns and what doesn’t, how to avoid incoming traffic and how to sit in it. And the other side, just plain old-fashioned hurt.

Not all is sullen, though, because in growth we often leave behind the tried-and-true patterns of our destruction, if we’re fortunate enough. Instrumentally, the band takes a turn even further off-road of bombastic, pulsing production. Acoustic guitar strings culture numerous tracks and serve to bolster the more rustic textures of the music, allowing for more appropriate settings of sullen reflection. 

On “Dancing in Babylon,” lead singer Andrew VanWyngarden shares the stage with Christine and the Queens in a duet, complete with reverberating vocals and lilting piano notes. This song seeks to reconcile the MGMT we know so well with this recent one we aren’t so familiar with, and I do mean production-wise. The band has not completely abandoned their previous forms. This is more of a new style with their MOs stitched in.

Everything they learned is thrown into the mix, so why not? If it works, why fix it? Thematically, this is more than suitable for what “Loss of Life” is looking to establish. Throw out what doesn’t work. For the veteran duo, what does work is their brand of dream-like synthesized harmony. 

In this project every use of this harmony feels so much more significant, so much more precious. Like a retired magician reluctantly agreeing to do a trick once more, the one that looks effortless, that never fails to amaze, even after its time under the sun.

Their coined ethereal essence is captured in the dream-daze lullaby “Phradie’s Song,” wherein serenades of love are sewn together by light guitar strums, flitting electric bells and chimes descending on their course. The nearly artificial sounding, dull pings play out the tune, with a warm crescendo of ambience for a fitting rest, a highlight of mine throughout the album.

The album ends by posing a question, “Who knows how the painting will look in the morning? / When the day is born and life is ending?” and perhaps there are no answers to such questions. For, it takes a wise man to know that he knows nothing. So, the band offers an alternative to this question. 

Not exactly an answer, rather a shifting of the conversation, to more tangible items on the agenda, “When the morning comes and life is over / Anyone can love, anyone can love.” This triumph is chanted to the unexpected but invited, brass horns, welcoming in this new insight, this newborn love.


4/5 stars


Featured photo courtesy of @whoismgmt, Instagram