Gothenburg, Sweden is a hotbed of diverse and escalating musical talent. From the mighty Soundtrack of Our Lives to idiosyncratic songsmiths José González and Jens Lekman, through to the unpredictable pop styles from the likes of Love is All and Audrey, not to mention the infamous black metal scene, Gothenburg now boasts the dynamic, organically soulful pop sounds of Little Dragon.
Featuring radiant vocalist Yukimi Nagano and her close high school friends Erik Bodin (drums), Fredrick Källgren (bass) and Håkan Wirenstrand (keyboards), Little Dragon stepped into the spotlight with the release of their first double A-side single on Peacefrog (home to José and Findlay Brown), 'Twice'/'Test'. A former Rough Trade 'Single of the Week' and "universally hailed as a masterpiece of free thinking soul", according to One Week To Live.
Born and raised in Gothenburg to a Japanese father and American mother, Yukimi says, "I grew up listening to American folk because of my Mom, but I've always had an affinity for R'n'B." Meanwhile, keyboardist Håkan spent his childhood in the deepest, darkest woods of Smaland before moving to Gothenburg, hearing a lot of Swedish folk music, later getting into electronic and synth music. Erik grew up hearing early hiphop and jazz. "From time to time we have had to get side jobs," Yukimi sighs, "but we'd rather stay broke, so we can concentrate on the band." Their true vocation can be in no doubt based on this divine debut offering.
Yukimi has sung with Sweden's electronica-jazz outfit Koop, and both Yukimi and Erik play live with José González. Erik also drums with Peps Perrson, a legendary Swedish blues/reggae artist. "We had an admiration for each other musically, and way before we defined ourselves as a band we were making music and hanging out," Yukimi explains. "It's like a family, and the band is our big passion. Little Dragon reminds you that when you're really creating music, it's like building a ship that will travel in a direction previously inconceivable".
However, what unites these disparate influences is an undeniable swing and lightness of touch, braced with bass heaviness, borne from the intuitive connection between the band members that epitomises Little Dragon's music. Unwilling to stick to definitions or reasons for why Little Dragon is what it is, Yukimi offers effusive and illustrative impressions, which is as good a way as any to understand this very special band.
"Maybe Little Dragon is a city," she muses. "Blue traffic-lights, fast food-signs, neon, love, loneliness, technology – a city reflected in the middle of a vast ocean. The music juxtaposes tradition and intense knowledge of musical tools, with destruction, invention… blazing a new trail. I like to think of our music as dreamy, but not always in a pleasant way. Some songs are emotional and some more free and naive."
Yukimi's emergence as a significant voice is confirmed by 'Twice' – the opening gambit for the debut and breathtaking in its simplicity, a minor-key piano ballad with understated yet richly effective strings blooming amid deft cosmic swirls. Yukimi delivers a poised but dramatically beautiful tale of regret. "The simple piano was so moody," she says "I guess it fits perfectly with my confused state at that time."
'Test' feels like zephyr on a summer's day. Locked down by wondrous echo chamber effects this gem bubbles along with a solid b-line and leftfield twists and charms that make it seem flawlessly new. "I wrote lyrics and melodies with only drums before we added any other instruments," Yukimi notes. "I found the drums very inspiring, and I like using a different process to write."
That same airiness is evident throughout the album, from highlight and future single 'Constant Surprises', which is mostly built from hi-hats and bubbling bass and reminds us of unique and fresh sounding soul that seems to have all but disappeared of late, while Yukimi's delicious vocal skips and glides atop, and on 'Recommendation' the sunshiny syncopation matches the bounce of Yukimi's singing.
'Forever' brings in more of the keyboard atmospherics and moody bass that Mad Professor would be proud to call his own, the perfect foil for a more reflective and emotional lyrical leaning. 'After The Rain' is all short clipped struts, and lets Yukimi run wild, moving into the quietly psychedelic, keyboard-driven yearning and wonder of 'Place To Belong', while 'Wink' suggests a lurking undercurrent of cavernous nightclub funk and flirtation. "When she winks at you / you feel your legs shake / you blow a kiss back / and time stops". A far less smutty euro Millie Jackson, if you will.
The album is marvellously book ended by the drifting percussion and electronic dynamics of 'Scribbled Paper', showcasing another wonderful vocal performance – "I went looking for a trace of something that you left".
Little Dragon take tired musical traces and styles, give them a shot in the arm to leave us with something fresh and positive.
It is a debut full of subtle touches, capturing fleeting emotional moments, twinned with gnawingly memorable pop flourishes and hooks. Oh, and it reminds us of endless summer possibilities…