My interest in the music of Little Dragon was piqued by singer Yukimi Nagano’s involvement with Gorillaz and Big Boi. She is prominent on those two acts’ most recent releases, on a number of tracks. Nagano is a Swedish-born, half-Japanese singer-songwriter, and the Asian influence is littered all over her work.
Machine Dreams is just the second release from Little Dragon, Nagano’s primary band, even though the band has been together since 1996 – way back when Nagano was just 14 years old. The group is so named “Little Dragon” after her infamous studio outbursts, though she has said in interviews that this behavior is no longer the case.
Tantrums or not, Machine Dreams is a surprising, different, and ultimately excellent take on electronic funk. Prior to today’s listening, I had not given this album its proper attention, which made for a fresh set of ears.
At times, Nagano’s vocals (“A New,” for example) remind me a lot of Santigold. And while these two ladies perform in rather similar genres, there’s much more introspection in the work of Little Dragon. Not to knock on Santigold by any means – her work with Major Lazer on the impossibly catchy “Hold the Line” is bang-up. But I tend to categorize her in that vapid party music genre – and again, not bashing, because there’s a time and a place for everything. Sometimes I want to feel a little numb and just listen to party music. More often than not that’s my time reserved for Andrew W.K.
As I mentioned, on Machine Dreams, Nagano’s Asian influence shines through on tracks like “Looking Glass” and “Runabout.” Between the gong-like percussion and vocals that will remind listeners of traditional Japanese folk music, it’s like a musical trip to the Far East. Good stuff.
The band finally slows it down on “Come Home” and “Fortune.” Unfortunate for them, one of those tracks is worth listening to; the other is the album’s single pass for them.
Lyrically, a few of these songs are about love and loss. While it’s nothing earth shattering, the vocals are what’s important here. In theory, the words could be in another language, but so long as it’s Yukimi singing, I’d be here listening.
Machine Dreams made me a fan, and it might just do the same for you.
From their 2009 release, this is Little Dragon’s “Runabout” –
Standout tracks: “Looking Glass” and “Runabout”
Weakest track: “Come Home”
RIYL: Gorillaz, Phantogram, Santigold, CSS. Dance funk with serious Asian influence.