Finding an unlikely middle point between Suicide’s hostile, proto-electro punk art noise and the sardonic, pop-friendly sound of the Flaming Lips, MGMT started as electroclash musical terrorists but quickly grew into an eclectic, brainy pop group with psychedelic overtones. MGMT first formed in 2002, during Ben Goldwasser and Andrew Van Wyngarden’s freshman year as art students at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. The band was initially known as the Management, and its shows consisted mostly of backing tapes, synthesizers, and pre-recorded vocals playing as Goldwasser and Van Wyngarden engaged the audience in a manner somewhere between performance art and good old-fashioned punky hostility.
By their senior year, they had toned down considerably on-stage, and began augmenting their live sound with backing musicians. After graduating, MGMT released an electro-rock EP, 2005’s Time to Pretend, on the tiny indie label Cantora Records. For their full-length debut, the duo partnered with producer Dave Fridmann and recorded Oracular Spectacular, a far more musically expansive album that was released digitally in late 2007. A traditional CD release followed in January 2008, and Oracular Spectacular ultimately enjoyed both critical approval and commercial success, with the album selling over 500,000 copies in the U.S. and going platinum in Australia, the U.K., and Ireland. The album’s third single, “Kids,” was a hit, eventually being nominated for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals at the 52 Annual Grammy Awards.
In 2009, MGMT began working with producer Sonic Boom, formerly of Spacemen 3 and Spectrum, on their second album, Congratulations. Released in 2010, the record found them growing more ambitious and quirkily psychedelic, with a song dedicated to two of their heroes: Dan Treacy of Television Personalities and Brian Eno. The album debuted at number two on the U.S. Billboard chart and the band toured much of the year, while also appearing on TV and playing many festivals.
The following year, the bandmembers dug deep into their record collections to curate an installment of the Late Night Tales mixtape series and began work on their third album with Dave Fridmann. The self-titled effort was something of a return to the expansive sound of their debut, but with the same amount of weirdness that permeated Congratulations. The record received mixed reviews, but still broke the Top 20 of the Billboard album chart. After the band finished touring behind the album, they decided to take a break from making music together. After roughly a year of inaction, Goldwasser and Van Wyngarden began trading song ideas back and forth via computer, then decided to write and work on arrangements together. They brought Fridmann back and added producer Patrick Wimberly of Chairlift to the team. Inspired by pop music of the ’80s and heavy on synths, Little Dark Age is MGMT’s most accessible since their debut, despite featuring cameos from dedicated weirdos Ariel Pink and Connan Mockasin. Though the record was finished and turned in to their label Columbia in April of 2017, it wasn’t released until February of 2018.