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Before taking the stage to perform the entirety of their debut album Oracular Spectacular at Just Like Heaven Fest 2023, MGMT acted out a skit about how they wrote their breakout track “Kids.” They were sitting in a dorm room in 2002 and deciding whether or not they should try to be cool and hit up the frat party down the street. “No, let’s stay inside and make music instead,” they said.

That moment was over twenty years ago. What would they tell their younger selves now if they could go back in time to 2002? The duo — Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser — answered that question at an album release Q&A in Los Angeles the night before their fifth studio album Loss Of Life dropped. They first joked they would be surprised they were only releasing their fifth album (“That’s it? It’s been twenty years!”). But in all seriousness, MGMT would be glad they’re still around. VanWyngarden in particular thought they would have barely lasted as a band after college graduation.

A lot has happened since VanWyngarden and Goldwasser were holed up in a dorm room and messing around on a keyboard. They were quickly shot into indie stardom, something VanWyngarden noted during the Q&A took them nearly 15 years not to be “f*cked up” about. They’ve achieved commercial success and lived the rockstar lifestyles they satirized in their early music (dating models, staying in mansions, rubbing elbows with other celebrities). But with Loss Of Life, an album that’s purposely cyclical, MGMT return to their indie roots.

Loss Of Life marks the band’s exit from a major label in favor of indie rock favorite Mom + Pop Records. Now, they’re getting back to the heart of writing experimental indie rock songs in a way that feels like a matured return to form. With songs like the stand-out single “Mother Nature,” MGMT is doing what MGMT does best; penning swelling ballads that offer obscure-yet-poetic reflections on big-picture themes like love in the modern age and accepting that death is a part of the cycle of life.

The album’s cyclical nature is first apparent in the tracklisting. Seemingly flipped, the project kicks off with the recorded spoken word track “Loss Of Life (part 2)” and concludes with the poignant “Loss Of Life” (a song so heartfelt VanWyngarden teared up in the booth while recording). The opening track is a recording of the 13th-century Welsh poem I am Taliesin. I sing perfect metre, which speaks to reincarnation. “Mother Nature” follows the spoken prose, a nostalgia-inducing ballad which can be summarized as accepting ebbs and flows of pain and pleasure as they get older. “We both turned 40 while making this album, and we wanted to find a way to retain our light-hearted, playful approach to things but to challenge ourselves to have more of a sincere and hopeful message,” VanWyngarden told Billboard about making the album.

At a stage in their lives when they can finally be in a place of acceptance, Loss Of Life is one of their most serious (and most beautiful) records to date. “Nothing Changes” saunters through lyrics about the static tendencies of human nature and the urge to translate perceived signs from the universe into meaning. Meanwhile, their Christine And The Queens collaboration “Dancing In Babylon” (their first duet to ever make it on an album) is a vibrant piano ballad-turned-disco-pop number. MGMT say it was the last song written for the album, while the existential call-to-arms track “People In The Streets” was the first and set the tone for the album overall.

But even still, MGMT are able to lean into the playful silliness of their early projects. This is in part thanks to the duo revisiting early aughts demos while rehearsing for the aforementioned Just Like Heaven set and attempting to recreate some of that magic. Plus, VanWyngarden watched Goldwasser play a lot of the video game Elden Ring while writing Loss Of Life, which is why imagery of castles sneak into songs like “Mother Nature” and “Nothing To Declare.” The song “Bubblegum Dog” is a warbled and nonsensical psych-infused alt-rock song characterized by MGMT’s recognizable harpsichord melodies, ridiculous lyrics, and an accompanying video that VanWyngarden admits cheekily play into “fan lore and conspiracies.” “I Wish I Was Joking” may be a chilled-out track on the surface, but proves the band was having fun in the studio. With a watery effect over his voice, VanWyngarden laments about “municipal parking” and “six dollar coffee” before closing out with a reverb-heavy laugh track.

As a whole, Loss Of Life shows MGMT have gone full circle and come back to their foundations as an indie band, both sonically by shedding the dark melodies of 2018’s Little Dark Age in favor of a more buoyant sound, and literally by signing to an independent record label. They manage to bring a familiar whimsy to their music while finding peace with big existential ideas. While Loss Of Life may have overt themes of death and rebirth, one theme is omnipresent throughout the record: love. In fact, the final words VanWyngarden sings on album-closer “Loss Of Life” is a hopeful message: “Anyone can love.”

Loss Of Life is out now via Mom + Pop. Find more information here.