Little Dragon are something of a paradox, living alongside the tidal wave of Scandinavian pop which has circumnavigated the globe but pre-dating divas such as Lykke Li and Robyn by enough years to know that if you can’t do it better than them, do it different.
Like their countrywomen, they’ve gradually evolved since forming in Gothenburg almost fifteen years ago. Allegedly named after the early studio tantrums of singer Yukimi Nagano, the quartet have often been recognised more for their star-studded collaborations (abridged: Mac Miller, De La Soul, Flying Lotus, SBTRKT, DJ Shadow) than for the string of albums they’ve released, the last of which – 2017’s Season High – saw them recruit in James Ford an out-of-house producer for the first time. It’s an experiment not repeated. Instead, the close-knit quartet of former schoolmates put themselves back on duty, recording once again in the familiar surroundings of their home studio.
Perhaps it’s over analysis, but in deconstructing what is, after all, a fairly simple title, the ‘Same Us’ part alludes maybe to the camaraderie of being reunited in the creative process again; what the ‘New Me’ part is meant to signify however, is a little less obvious. To an extent this is because it’s a record with some very smooth surfaces: opener Hold On sets this tone, an exercise in immaculate mid-Atlantic soul on which Nagano showcases her dandily impressive pipes, the sort of music you’d expect to hear on a billionaire’s yacht.
After years of club friendly output, the buzz now however is that as a collective the Swedes have fallen back in love with their instruments – guitar, bass, drums, keyboards – the consequence of which is that the beat-led tangents of the past have largely disappeared. There are fragments of the unexpected – the rolling South American vibe that opens up Rush, while Kali Uchis ghosts her way through the jazzy abstractions of Are You Feeling Sad?, and New Fiction chimes with undertones of the East – but the risks which used to be a matter of course seem to have been consigned temporarily to history.
It’s hard, in fact, to know whether the lack of all-star co-stars has been an inhibitor or an inspiration. Execution isn’t a problem with Another Lover, Where You Belong and Stay Right Here all locked into the same attractive but unchallenging groove, aping the perky acid-jazz of The Brand New Heavies back in the day before the day. This isn’t to say that when it’s good, it’s not good, as the closing track Water illusory proves, but it’s a rare moment that doesn’t feel like it’s trying a little too hard to be laid back.
Sometimes being different can be a lonely place. Little Dragon have fifteen years of experimentation in the bank but New Me, Same Us explores the comfort of staying in a lane.
Given how restless they’ve been so far though, it’s likely that this constitutes only a temporary waypoint despite its obvious luxuries.