MGMT finds solace on ‘Loss of Life’

Indie pop duo Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser sit down with Document to discuss their latest record

MGMT makes music that feels contemporary, and has always done so. 20 years into working together, the duo, comprised of Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser, continue to create music that cuts through a musical and cultural landscape entirely different than that of their 2005 debut. Their music not only perseveres, but serves as a cultural thermometer for millennial America. From soundtracking the excited decadence of the late aughts into the now heavily discussed indie sleaze period of the 2010s, to scoring the nihilism and confusion of the Trump years, COVID, and beyond; MGMT’s discography is as musically heavy-hitting as it is historically salient.

Nearly two decades after their indie pop beginnings, VanWyngarden and Goldwasser continue to rise above the fray across their newest record Loss of Life, out today. This particular project is delicate and contemplative. It finds the two—who now live on opposite coasts with their respective wives—investigating family, life, and death. “Phradie’s Song,” an organic and loving ballad toward the back-half of the album, is striking in its lullaby-esque sweetness and simplicity. “I can sing for you,” VanWyngarden utters on the track, “every night, if you want me to.”

The album sits in contrast to the hugely successful Little Dark Age, an accelerationist pop project from 2018. Whereas Little Dark Age spent its time with themes of hyper pop, trolling, and meme-making, Loss of Life is shocking in its earnestness. It’s a thrilling listen; the 10 songs that make up the record are the most sober offering from the band to date. The record marks a clear step forward, out of harshness and irony and toward something loving and genuine. We can only hope that, as always, the culture follows their lead.

Conor Hudnut: A lot of the bands that you came up with have since broken up or released music that hasn’t seemed to hit. Do you have any insight into why that might be?

Andrew VanWyngarden: I think that’s where we benefit from being totally out of touch with what’s hip and trendy. We always end up just doing our own thing. Without sounding cheesy, it’s because we’re sort of trying to express ourselves truthfully and authentically. When you do that it doesn’t really seem to matter what generation you’re in or what the trend is.

Ben Goldwasser: But that is inherently cringe, in a way. So maybe we’re just embracing that and rolling with it.

“It’s easy to hide behind sarcasm or irony musically—lots of reverb and delay, and layers, layers, layers. To really expose yourself, so to speak, is more of a challenge.”

Conor: Do you actually see yourselves as being out of touch?

Andrew: I could lie and say yes, because I do feel very out of touch. Maybe Ben’s a little better, but in terms of music and pop culture, those are bigger things. I feel my age, I feel 41.

Conor: That’s good.

Ben: My wife listens to a celebrity gossip podcast. I know a lot of random trivia about celebrities, but I know more about that than I do about their work, I guess.

Conor: To use a term that’s on trend, I was thinking about being a “doomer” while listening to the Loss of Life. I think it’s an optimistic album, but there are definitely doomer tendencies.

Andrew: Yeah, I think it’s post-doomer.

Conor: What led you to being post-doomer?

Andrew: I was thinking… I don’t know. I guess I was thinking about ’60s counterculture and experimenting with LSD, and how after Woodstock it got super dark. And then after that there was a whole wave of sincere music. It was all about family and relationships, and I think [that sincerity] naturally happens when you get older.

But Ben and I just felt like we’ve shed this more sardonic, cynical edge that was on our last album. We also approach making new music as a challenge to ourselves, to make something that [feels] direct and more naked in parts. It’s easy to hide behind sarcasm or irony musically—lots of reverb and delay, and layers, layers, layers. To really expose yourself, so to speak, is more of a challenge.

Conor: Does it feel vulnerable to release this project?

Andrew: A little bit, just because it’s very personal. The emotional journey [behind Loss of Life] was real. It was responding to major things happening in our lives; we wrote songs focusing on that. Now it’s coming to a point where [the album] jumps out of the nest and into the world. It’s weird to expose deeply personal sentiments to the world, for sure.

Conor: I’m also wondering about your working relationship. How has the process of making an album evolved two decades in?

Andrew: It wasn’t all that different from the way we made our last album. I guess the main difference was that we waited until we had a solid idea or sketch of the record. On the last album—and kind of every other one—we spent a lot of time in the studio jamming or experimenting, or just sitting on the floor waiting for inspiration. This was more precision-strike style.

Ben: I think we’ve gotten better at working. It was kind of the same way we worked on Little Dark Age, but we’ve gotten more comfortable with the process of sending tracks back and forth. I don’t know. I think also just being a little bit precious about the whole process, or maybe part of that just comes from being more confident and not being afraid to mess something up. I think we’ve learned to experiment and see what happens.