Sunday, July 10, 2011

Little Dragon: Little Dragon

     First off, shout-out to Jacob for requesting this review! Swedish group Little Dragon are releasing a third record this month, so I'm eager to review the album that started it all off. The lead singer of this electronic band, Yukimi Nagano is for me, surprisingly known, having worked with Swedish jazz outfit Koop, their 2001 lp 'Waltz for Koop' a fairly enjoyable one. The band also contributed to the popular Gorillaz effort 'Plastic Beach', with Nagano lending her vocals and song-writing skills to two of the sixteen tracks. The vocals on Little Dragon's self titled debut however, manage to merge the jazz sensibilities of her time with Koop with her self proclaimed "affinity for R&B". Her voice is incredibly soulful, flowing around the lyrics in a unique style, sensual and yet alluringly confident. Having heard the band's second record, 'Machine Dreams' in revision for this review, I find that in almost all respects, a better album. Having said that, this little twelve-track beauty is stunning in it's simplicity, lacking in layered sound and the production of the band's 2009 album, but still managing to retain a certain soothing charm. I'm definitely going to try and get a review of 'Machine Dreams' put out sometime in the near future, if possible.
     The opening track, 'Twice' is most definitely the best here. It's haunting piano melody carries the heartfelt vocals which in themselves take influence from progressive ballads. Jazz and pop elements also make their way into the music, shying away from the limelight but constantly supporting the sound throughout. Like I said before, the style from Little Dragon is very much a sparse one, minimalistic in it's construction but managing to refrain from that dangerously close pit, filled with the boring and bland attributes of similar groups. They keep this very plain feel in terms of instrumentation and production, yet they create such emotion sonically that it simply compels you to listen again and again.
     From the distinguishing bass line of 'Twice', Nagano leads you into the more upbeat and experimental 'Turn Left', filled with the electronic beats and quietly subtle dance elements that have come to be eponymous with the musical characteristics of Little Dragon. The progressive soul element to the record comes into play on the third track 'No Love', a thoughtful walk down the New Orleans promenade, grooving along on a lonely autumn afternoon. This seeps into the next two tracks, with 'Recommendation' shining with a few vocal harmonies and 'Constant Suprises' mellow in it's loose and reassuring warmth.
     'Forever' is fun in it's backing beat. 'After The Rain' is one of my favourite tracks though, with the vocals getting louder and slightly more confident in their execution. There are a few smile-coaxing 'woop's that jump and skip along with the jazz infused high-hat beat. The production isn't as good as 'Machine Dreams', but this gives the whole record a pretty self-recorded feel, soft and comforting in it's nostalgic, 80's atmosphere. 'Place To Belong' does bring a colder, moodier bass to the table, but overall, the previous statement goes. 'Stormy Weather' is a drizzly beach, a sight split into sections of light and shade, the sun painting a faded rainbow on the sky, overlooking a hopelessly grey world.
     'Test' is Little Dragon's more dance-like track, and 'Wink' is a trippy song highlighted by the hand-clap beat and vocal experimentation. There is also a lovable oriental feel to the ending, with most of the band mates contributing to the deliberately laughable and silly finish. The last track 'Scribbled Paper' feels bigger than the rest, with it's grand backing melody dusted in delicate drum beats at the start. This leads into another soothing and calm six minutes, making it not only the longest song, but one which is so easy to fall into and get lost within. Little Dragon are experts in this field, creating ambient surroundings and nostalgic atmospheres that run carefree throughout this charming little record. For something captivating and simplistic, like all the finest things in life, I have no problem recommending Little Dragon's self-titled debut. Phenomenally brilliant.