Little Dragon’s Season High, a decade low
Swedish electro-quintet Little Dragon have been around for 21 years, and actively releasing music for the past 10. With associated acts like the Gorillaz, De La Soul and SBTRKT they’ve crafted an impressive legacy as being beats-driven and imaginative. But LD’s latest record, Season High, stands as a slight mar on their inventive image.
The contemporarily in-vogue resurgence of 80s beats and synth is heard crystal clear on the first track “Celebrate (feat. Agge)”. It is certainly weird to hear a fuzzy 8bit guitar solo on a Little Dragon song… but I kinda like it. The oriental keyboard line through the song has the trademark Little Dragon ability to be the sriracha-soy mix to make a sausage roll feel ‘exotic’. As the first single from the album the unabashedly gleeful tone is well placed. The celebratory opener gives the impression that LD are sauntering away from alternate electo to more consumable beats, but as the sultry, smooth second track “High” chugs through its 4+ minute soulful triphop runtime, I hope beyond hope that this line of thinking can be dashed. But as the corny arpeggio of “The Pop Life” flitters across lead woman Yukimi Nagano’s vocals, my heart sinks.
Nagano’s lucid and soulful tone is matched to her often abstract and acid-drenched lyricism (seriously, read the opening lines for “Pretty Girls” and tell me it doesn’t sound like someone just dropped a tab) - The green mermaid/ And the wavy mane/ The California dream/ Riding a unicorn through your Dalí. Season High never showcases this quirk, there’s no levels of abstraction, just saccharine sweet glossy-pop hooks like “Gravity won’t stop us from taking off”. I’m going to side with Thom York on this one; “But gravity always wins”.
Part of my allure to Little Dragon is their crafty mix of organic live drums and drum machines (e.g. “Runabout”) – but this synergy wasn’t present on the album. Pads ruled over skins. It was like applying a nail polish with ample sheen but no body to the colour. Most of the songs swam in club banger kick drums, the highlights of the album were “Don’t Cry” and “High”, simply because everything felt understated instead of trying to blart for your attention. These slower, more pared back tracks serve as a welcome respite and reveal unique moments, like the Frank Ocean-like phrasing on “Butterfly”, are few and far between.
Usually, Little Dragon’s version of pop is so smooth. But the album is full of more misses than hits, and for that I’m led to believe that this album is for new listeners, not old fans. Songs don’t wander into unexpected places like they used to. They steer the path of predictability. Consistency isn’t bad, but I long for the days of “Constant Surprises”.
Season High will be released on Friday 14th April.