Enter the (Little) Dragon

December 5, 2009

A chilly, wet evening at Holocene seemed fitting for Little Dragon. “Long endless winters” in Gothenburg, Sweden fostered the electronic dance music culture that permeates their sound. “We really felt the love,” drummer Erik Bodin said in reference to the energetic Portland audience that kept step with the group from start to finish. Finding a balance between laid-back soul and the energetic momentum of dance music, Little Dragon draws upon tight synth grooves and spacious soundscapes, while retaining a patient, human presence.

After touring internationally with various groups as session musicians, the high school friends were drawn back together by a desire to create their own music, rather than someone else’s. Bookended by lyricist and lead vocalist Yukimi Nagano’s ethereal lyrics and a groove locked down by Bodin and bassist Fredrik Källgren Wallin, Håkan Wirenstrand fills the space between on keyboards and synthesizer. They initially tried to imitate what the soul and R&B music they liked, but Nagano recalls that the band soon opted to “let go of that and experiment more with what we’re good at.” The result was a deluge of material that eventually became their 2007 self-titled release Little Dragon.

Their August 2009 release Machine Dreams often finds neutral ground between soul and electronica, but more often than not strays toward the latter. A moving concert opener and lead-off track for the album, the gentle “A New” lets Wirenstrand’s soundscapes and Nagano’s lyrics drive the momentum. Little Dragon is at their best on “Blinking Pigs” and “Feather” where they retains the dance momentum while settling into a relaxed pocket groove. Though most effective when the soul and pop elements are in balance, straight-forward retro dance numbers such as “Looking Glass” and “Swimming” stay fresh as their sonic variety holds the reins of a pop aesthetic that could otherwise easily fall into monotony.

Looking ahead, Little Dragon has begun work on their third album, which they expect will follow the vein of Machine Dreams. They are always open to influences, and everyone contributes equally. “I write the lyrics and melodies,” Nagano says, “but then Erik will put drums on Håkan’s track, and Håkan will put keys on [Erik’s] track…everyone plays synthesizers and stuff, so it’s very democratic that way.” Consistently creating and constantly listening, the members of Little Dragon have confidence. “I think we’re all for making mistakes,” Nagano says, with Bodin coyly adding, “failure is good.”

Pyschadelic Lounge. Future folk. ElectroSoul. Call it what you want, but most importantly—and most effectively—it is their own.

This review was written for a Guerrilla Media feature piece on Little Dragon. You can check out the full text of my interview with the band for Guerrilla Media here.

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