LITTLE DRAGON Season High gets 6/10

Little Dragon
Season High
Loma Vista

6/10

Little Dragon’s new album Season High is the band’s fourth over a career that spans 10 years, a career that has seen them leading the way in creating progressive synth pop music. Lead singer Yukimi Nagano has also received worldwide acclaim for her incredible vocals, which have a knack of soaking into your pores. The band has recently collaborated with groups as diverse as Big Boi and TV On The Radio, and Nagano has offered her voice to the likes of Gorillaz and SBTRKT.

Given the band’s track record for experimenting with sounds, collaborators, and creating eclectic music themselves, one might expect Season High to be a progressive synth-laden soundscape of modern electronic pop music. But unfortunately, the album’s 80s dance and lo-fi mood just don’t stack up against other bands that are doing a similar thing (and there are a lot of them). Whilst there are artful moments on the album, and they are clearly going for a more understated approach, it mostly tends to lack real ingenuity, and at times soul, and it fails to fully utilise Nagano’s voice and their knack for producing creative melodies.

Instead of allowing Nagano’s voice to play a centre part, the vocals are used as an equal with the music, which plays into the album’s subtle, delicate sounds. The album consequently plateaus, with only a few driving, building and affecting parts. Season High has glimpses of genius, but it is too preoccupied with trying to create an inclusive, holistic feel, that it ends up lacking any real punch, deeming it interesting, but quite forgettable.

Season High opens with Celebrate (feat. Ange) which starts with majestic Japanese style flute before heavy, rhythmic, electronic drumming hits, the change in tempo and use of varied sounds is reminiscent of the Little Dragon we have come to love. Towards the end, Celebrate goes into an all out groove session including unusual synthesiser effects and far-out vocal auto tuning. The song then goes into a swell of distorted squealing guitar, which nods towards the band’s experimental rock roots. With Nagano’s vocals floating around in the middle of the mix, it makes for one of the stronger songs on the album.

High brings an atmospheric, moody direction, with distant drumming and synth work that floats around in the vastness. Nagano’s palpable personality is missing on High as are the understated hooks we have come to expect from Little Dragon, and it means the song is not very captivating, in fact, it is so chill that it could put you to sleep.

The Pop Life brings some pace with dance house roots, complete with whistles, clicks, claps and off kilter key effects, it wouldn’t be out of place in a cheesy 80s disco movie. Nagano does her best to bring the song together with her warm and characterful vocals, and she almost achieves this, but the song just seems to lay a little fat. Where you feel like it could lift and have an impact it becomes monotonous and little irritating.

Sweet is a nostalgic dance song utilising modern day technology, which the band does to scientific and mathematical perfection, so much so in fact, that it could be criticised for lacking a little heart and humanity.

Butterflies is a meandering, reverberating track that uses electronic effects as well as Nagano’s high end vocals to create a lush ambient feel. The six minute track is a vast soundscape that slowly builds – to nowhere really. There is nothing that really stands out on the song and consequently, it fails to stun and it also fails to entrance, but it does have a kind of effortlessness and calming serenity to it which washes over you and makes you feel at ease.

Should I is a genre bending number which pays homage to R&B, techno, world, disco and dance. Nagano’s vocals sit slightly higher than middle in the mix and this is great, but the song still comes across like something that seems better on paper than it does in practice. Perhaps it tries to do too much.

Don’t Cry is a glimpse of the band’s genius. With honest and heartfelt lyrics like “even when I felt confused, I still had sides to choose, and when I suddenly lost my track, I managed to find my way back and fight for you”, it proves one of the strongest songs on the album, and one of their strongest songs of the last five years. The song allows Nagana’s vocals to do their thing and have an effect on the audience through expression and storytelling. The music beautifully forms around the vocals and words and do just enough to add diversity and complexity to the song. It’s here where Little Dragon and Season High are at their best – sincere, exploratory, melodically creative music paired with some of the best vocals in the industry.

Strobe Light is an impactful, driving track that seems like a return to the Little Dragon of old, complete with electronic pop elements, funky melody and big beats. Catchy riffs and rhythm takes a front seat whilst moody soundscapes take a back seat, making it the biggest toe tapper on the album. The song proves to be as sleek and effortless than the others on the album, but works better because it delivers melodious punch.

Push follows along Strobe Light’s path, with high energy dance music that hints at Janet Jackson or Prince. The song features “push” being seductively harmonised through the chorus and uses some left-field elements like sexy spoken words, what sounds like a computerised burp, a swearing speaking Brit and an instrument which resembles an electronic laughing kookaburra. Push and Strobe prove that Little Dragon can effortlessly make dance ear worms that make you want to get up and celebrate life.

The album finishes with Gravity, which is another mess of intriguing sounds, using Nagano’s voice as the main instrument. The song is over six minutes long and like the album, it seems to be daring the listener to endure and expand one’s musical mind, to have a more cerebral experience and take note of the delicate and intricate work at play. But adversely, like the album, it just falls short, proving to have too much technical mastery and control and not enough soul and wit.

You can’t help but feel that Little Dragon were keen to steer away from their recent collaborative dealings and experimenting, and create something for themselves, for their own creative fulfilment, and this should be applauded. They keep it understated, choosing to use small delicate details to draw the ear and heart over exploding hooks and melody. It’s not for everyone, and perhaps that is exactly their point.

LARA FOX

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