To call Little Dragon a hybrid group would give it a bit of a double meaning. The groups’ eponymous debut album is a mix of glitchy electronica, emotive soul and groovy hip hop-styled rhythms that could be found on a J Dilla’s early work of this decade. But that’s not the kicker. An extra layer of astonishment is realized when the Swedish identity of the band and its Japanese lead singer Yukimi Nagano are revealed. Not to say the Swedes can’t get down, but who knew music this varied and soul-rooted could come from the land of fjords and gourmet meatballs?
Nagano’s vocals are a majority of the story on this album. The opening ballad, “Twice”, puts her voice on full display over gentle piano and wispy strings. It is the most stripped-down song on this effort and perhaps an acoustic album from this group might be in order. This ballad, however, belies the tone, approach and pace of the rest of the album.
“Turn Left” promptly gets things going with its mix of glitchy (?), synthesizer-driven electronica and sharp rimshots. The production is particularly interesting on this cut. A host of synthetic instrumentation and studio effects that resemble gusting air and cartoon-like xylophones bob and weave between Nagano’s unique vocals.
The band itself is not to be outdone by Nagano’s attention-grabbing vocals. The rhythm of “No Love” is an aching, mid-tempoed song that has the jazzy hip hop characteristics of the early work of The Ummah or The Soulquarians. The song transitions into a mood-setting and ambient coda before the group breaks into the subtly funky “Recommendation”.
Both Nagano and the band let their hair down (as much as they can) in “After The Rain” with a climactic bridge that returns to the tranquility with which the track started. Similarly, the soul-clap driven “Place To Belong” breaks into an unexpectedly funky finale that is just one out of many instances where the group changes up the groove to engage listeners who might be caught up in Little Dragon’s electronic trance.
The six-minute closer, “Scribbled Paper”, is a grand assortment of brush stroke drumming, acoustic piano textures and orchestral synths that personifies the instrumentation and approach of this solid debut effort. Little Dragon has flown under the radar since mid-2007 when it debuted. It will probably hold up as one of the better efforts of the last few years in whatever genre the group might find itself.