Little Dragon - Season High

by Alexander Mansfield

Little Dragon are now into their 2nd decade of making music with the Gothenburg quartet, releasing their fifth record this month. At its core, Little Dragon is a very experimental electronica band, although they do take the occasional pop detour. In fact, their pop singles and collaborations have been essential to their increased notoriety in recent years, working with the likes of Gorillaz, Flume or most famously SBTRKT with Wildfire. In their own work, tracks such as Nightlight, Klapp Klapp, and Sunshine jump chaotically, while heart wrenching ballads like Twice stand calm and honest. Rowdy or considered, deafening or sombre, Little Dragon adopt what the 1980s decided was the future, imagining what we will one day listen to in our flying cars, wearing our silvery space suits. Whether they are before their time or just too crazy to handle, is still yet to be seen. However, this band never ceases to out-trump itself with its inventive surprises, and this is certainly the case with their fifth project, Season High.

Traditionally, Little Dragon albums have not been the most accessible to general audiences. Lyrics are often incomprehensible and sonically unique under their groovy synth-orientated style. Again, Season High as a full LP is not for the fainthearted. The album can be summarised by opening track Celebrate, which rotates between a strange stereotyped Japanese riff, a delightful pop-rock bridge, and then an over-reaching Prince-esque psychedelic synths, topped off with a distorted, screeching guitar solo and ending with a water drop. Absolute madness, and maybe a bit too much. Transitions in genres can be a fantastic way to keep songs engaging and lively, yet sometimes combinations can be a bit too extreme and just do not gel. Season High continues to genre leap between songs, but thankfully never again within pieces at this scale.

The album diversifies the different kind of “highs” you can experience, scattering moods that are serene and dreamy, chaotic and energetic, sassy and confident, or sad and confused. Within the smooth genre we find tunes like second track, High, all hazy with SBTRKT-inspired jungle grooves and ASMR whispers which dispel all worries; a wonderful track. Similarly, fourth song Butterflies flutters with fragility. The juxtaposition between the long reassuring vocals and general chords combined with the sporadic twitching distant synths portrays the creature exceptionally well and is of fantastical childish imagination. Towards the end of the album we get Don’t Cry, which carries the infantile theme further in a reassuring lullaby. Yukimi Nagano’s vocals are stretched to the limit here in an emotional carol.

In between High and Butterflies, Little Dragon spring into their wild side. The Pop Life picks up the mantle from High, starting with the same tranquil mood but majestically evolving into a mini rave. Drums and electronics unite very strongly as the subtle additions of violins ease into the anthem. This energy develops into the ‘sugar rush’ of the single Sweet. The hilarious use of twangy 8-bit video game sound effects and high vocals within the chorus will either find you joy or get you seriously annoyed; possibly both. Having said this, the drums are banging and it is extremely catchy, hence why it is likely the biggest track on the album.

Approaching the end of the album we get into sassy territory. The dubby nature of Push is a number that struts down the catwalk with its stomping beats whilst Yukimi mimics the screaming crowd: “PUUUSH!” The added directorial commentary of the featured French photographer may be silly but makes this track even more fun. We also get Should I, which may at first appear as assertive but depicts the nature of a relationship where the protagonist is ready to settle down and get married, yet their partner will not ask. Foremost this is a hectic and frustrated production, but also a little sad as it finishes with a single wedding bell chime. Honestly, this song feels a little rushed and confused, but perhaps this represents the mood of this track. Similarly, Strobe Light, whose name suggests the theme of The Pop Life, again feels detached and half-hearted, yet is unsuccessfully covered by high tempo dance EDM sounds which do not feel right. The album finishes with seven minute track Gravity, which finally accepts the distance in head space between the lovers who are clearly ‘galaxies apart’, yet Yukimi still continues to plead her desperate case. The final 3 minutes end lifeless, eventually accumulating into pure static.

Season High really is a dynamic cauldron of emotions with its thematic highs and lows. Ultimately this is a band that cares most about staying true to their weird artistic sounds. Personally, I have thoroughly appreciated both Yukimi’s obvious vocal talent and the moments when Little Dragon’s subtle featurettes inspire and captivate, yet fundamentally this album can be inconsistent and the artistry can occasionally get gimmicky. Some may appreciate its uniqueness but, much to the band’s annoyance, it will be their collaborations that will continue to define Little Dragon for the average listener.