Loss Of Life
When MGMT emerged in 2007 with “Time to Pretend”—a euphoric shooting star of a song that soundtracked every house party and HBO show for the next several years—the synth-pop duo, just out of college, became rock stars overnight. They were big in every sense: a major-label deal, a tour with Radiohead, a reputation for rock shows that felt like raves. But Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser never seemed wholly comfortable with their popularity, and their subsequent albums were far more eccentric and experimental. Then, during the pandemic, the band found themselves back in the spotlight for a reason nobody saw coming: One of their tracks blew up on TikTok. The sudden, explosive virality of “Little Dark Age,” a foreboding, vaguely political track from their 2018 album of the same name, took both men, now in their forties, by total surprise. And yet, when they began writing their fifth album a few months later, they found themselves circling themes of reinvention and rebirth. Loss of Life is, despite its title, openhearted and hopeful, and sheds some of the fussy self-seriousness that weighed down their recent records. The arrangements are streamlined. The melodies can breathe. The hooks stick. It isn’t that the band has reverted back to its high-flying, imperious roots; these songs have an emotional sincerity that you just didn’t get on “Electric Feel.” Rather, it feels like a weight has been lifted. Certain moments, like the Christine and the Queens duet “Dancing in Babylon,” even sound like surrender. The album was co-produced by longtime collaborators Patrick Wimberly and Dave Fridmann with additional support from Oneohtrix Point Never. The latter is often cited as someone who takes a curatorial approach to production, and Loss of Life asks a lot of big questions about what, ultimately, makes art good. Does it need to be serious to be taken seriously? Is optimism allowed? Tender lullabies like “Phradie’s Song,” the Simon & Garfunkel-esque “Nothing to Declare,” and the twinkling title track—one of those sweeping, distorted psychedelic numbers that feels designed for exploring spiritual frontiers—suggest that MGMT’s answers have softened with age. “Who knows how the painting will look in the morning/When the day is born and life is ending?” VanWyngarden sings on “Loss of Life.” The subtext, if we may: Our time here is short. What matters is that you paint.