wears the trousers magazine

little dragon: machine dreams (2009)
August 24, 2009, 7:16 am
Filed under: album, mp3, review, video | Tags: , , ,


Little Dragon
Machine Dreams •••½

If artists from the UK in the 1950s and ‘60s imported rock and roll from America and used it as their blueprint, then it is to Europe that British and American groups have traditionally turned to plunder electronic music. Since its birth in the 1970s, arguably with Kraftwerk (a seemingly hackneyed but nonetheless true statement), Europe has been the centre of the genre, with Berlin as its established capital. The likes of David Bowie, Brian Eno, Iggy Pop and even U2 have recorded in the city, drawing on its Cold War alienation and detachment to imbue their music with dark soundscapes and a postmodern chill. It is perhaps telling, therefore, that Machine Dreams was originally to be titled Berlinmaster. This second album from Gothenburg four-piece Little Dragon sees them adopt a markedly more electronic style, which, coupled with singer Yukimi Nagano’s expressive vocal, makes for a distinctly unique sound. 

More accessible than enigmatic fellow Swedes The Knife, Little Dragon have crafted an album of often stark canvases onto which Nagano applies her almost sultry voice. The nod to Berlin is especially evident on lead single and album closer ‘Fortune’, which contains a synth line that is the lost twin of ‘Warszawa’ from the second side of Bowie’s Low, and a mournful vocal which beautifully offsets the music. This latter approach is a tactic used to undeniably devastating effect throughout the record. Album opener ‘A New’ sets the stall out immediately with the singer’s soulful delivery contrasted with a piece of music reminiscent of Kraftwerk’s ‘The Man Machine’, while shades of New Order abound on ‘Looking Glass’, with its bouncy rhythm and intermittent synth stabs.

Erik Bodin’s precise beat underpins Hakan Wirenstrand’s swirling, glittering synths and Nagano’s comparatively dispassionate, restrained singing on album highlight ‘Feather’, and the album’s only wobbly moment comes in ‘Runabout’, which expands on the allusions to Prince shown in earlier track ‘My Step’ but takes the style too far, resulting in a track which feels cluttered, frantic and out of place in the context of the songs that surround it. Echoing drums and robotic synthesisers are used to great effect on ‘Blinking Pigs’, which is infused with curious noises throughout yet would not sound totally out of place on La Roux’s recently released album, and the record draws near to the finish with the sombre, beautiful ‘Come Home’. 

The lyrics here, it must be noted, are mysterious yet unremarkable, but the overall impression is that they are largely intended to be inconsequential anyway; it is the intonations and inflections of Yukimi Nagano’s voice itself which permeate the tracks, confirming the moods merely hinted at by the musical arrangements. Amid the clamour of acts now treading the electro-pop revival path, Little Dragon stand out for the difference of their approach to the genre, and their collective experience should stand them in good stead to progress from here and explore other techniques and styles. Machine Dreams is a fine demonstration of their versatility and instincts, and a fresh take on a well defined area of music.

Matt Bregazzi
UK release date: 31/08/09; www.myspace.com/yourlittledragon


FREE MP3: Little Dragon, ‘Fortune’ [via RCRDLBL]




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