Most people will know Little Dragon simply because they collaborated with Gorillaz on their most recent album “Plastic Beach”. You might not know them as the brilliant Swedish maestros who successfully put the quirk back into pop. So, you know, they’re not that popular. But who cares! If you find a little gem amongst the sea of faceless pop out there then surely you’ve gotta be happy!
Coming from Sweden is difficult, of course. You’re constantly fighting with the other greats around you but Little Dragon seem to embrace the sounds around them and encapsulate them into their own music. The percussive beats that run through “Looking Glass” or “Runabout” wouldn’t be out of place on any of Royksopp’s dance moments and “Thunder Love” has a similar comforting yet haunted feel that surrounds the bulk of The Knife’s work.
Yukimi Nagano’s ethereal yet somehow earthy voice roots down each tracks and stops some of the songs floating away into the atmosphere: it rightly takes centre stage on the album, even if some of her lyrics are completely unintelligible without reading them in the booklet. As a former lounge singer, her voice can sometimes be husky and sultry such as on “Feather” where it glides sensuously across the deep-toned beats that back her up. At other times she’s much more playful and manages to carry each syllable of each word with her like a kite wafting in the wind. On “Runabout” she’s as cheerful as can be and when she’s backed up by a melody that almost resembles J-Pop and a speedy beat, that sense of sunshine thinking is infectious. It’s one of those songs that make you smile.
“My Step” is a glitchier, bitty moment. The melody is so light that it needs the calm vocals of Nagano to help keep it together. It’s a gem though: despite its fragile beginnings it quickly morphs into a smooth and sophisticated pop song before returning back to its straggly but very catchy wispiness.
Unlike most pop-leaning electronic records of the past few years, Little Dragon focus mainly on creating a particular atmosphere rather than trying to put too much effort into being really cutting-edge or steering the opposite direction and being too bland. In a sense this helps to place “Machine Dreams” above the competition. No track feels out of place, and nothing is strained or sounds like filler material. Any emotional focus may seem a little vague but this just helps to pin down “Machine Dreams” as a mysterious yet altogether lovable album. Try not to overlook its obscure yet accessible charms!