Teetering on the edge of commercial viability, whilst preserving their unconventional charm...
'Season High'

For all their fashionable and gossamer synth pop, Swedish quartet Little Dragon have never truly set the charts ablaze — their brand of music a bit too austere to dominate airwaves. What they do have is staying power, retaining their pedigree as a dependable, fringe-festival act and harbingers of invigorating electro-soul. The four-piece succeed in straddling multiple genres through a PC prism, redefining retro and throwback sounds instead of actually innovating.

‘Season High’, the band’s fifth LP, continues their hermetic approach to music-making, not straying too far from the formula. The record continues the skittering rhythms that pervaded ‘Nabuma Rubberband’ and even ‘Ritual Union’. The band ever so slightly rein in their quirks this time round, and the ensuing effect is a more controlled, sensuous soundboard, the quartet fusing their signature glitch electronics with the simplicity of unabashed ‘80s pop and R&B.

‘Season High’ is a pleasant ride — a breezy escapade through dreamlands and ultraviolet meadows. It’s a sometimes sickly-sweet concoction that’ll leave you once or twice with the feeling of overindulgence. Like on the stretched, slow burner ‘Butterflies’, a kaleidoscope-inducing track that stagnates without percussion, a pay-off or a crescendo. The record succeeds when singer Yukimi Nagano’s breathy, mournful vocals collide with morose atmospherics, like on ‘Don’t Cry’, a night-time lullaby that modifies feelings of loss with one of open-eyed clarity. It works because Nagano’s quivering vocal performance has conviction, whereas on the hollow ‘Should I’, she loses her way under the weight of obtrusive clangs, her voice stretched until wafer thin.

The best symbiosis of production and vocal flourishes is on single ‘Sweet’, a glossy, euphoric number, a showcase of the band’s aptitude for technical precision, the song benefitting from the right amount of Gameboy bleeps. ‘Push’, the darker, seedier antithesis to ‘Sweet’, is the quartet’s foray into queer culture. Invoking the sexual awakening of ‘Velvet Rope’ Janet Jackson, Nagano conjures images of a legion of club-goers voguing their inhibitions away.

These tracks are microcosms of the LP’s prevailing lyrical narrative — one of renewal and rejuvenation, the band clearly carefree and at an equilibrium with their identity. It’s a shame that the production is occasionally bereft of that aphorism, lacking the more stylistic leaps Yukimi Nagano has taken as a feature vocalist with the likes of SBTRKT and Kaytranada. The record ultimately enfeebled by the band’s dialled back, minimalist approach.

Continuing their track record of sensory electropop that teeters on the edge of commercial viability, whilst preserving their unconventional charm, ‘Season High’ is an exuberant quick-fix LP. It may well usher in the deep heat of the impending summer, but we’ll have to keep waiting for that Little Dragon knockout blow that we know the band are capable of.

6/10

Words: Shahzaib Hussain

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