Cos•mic \ käz-mik \ adj + folk \fõk\n
Little Dragon likes to work in contrasts. It’s based in Gothenburg, Sweden, which is not the first place that comes to mind as a musical Mecca. Yet, with the Knife, Jose Gonzalez and Swell Session there, it has a bubbling underground electronic scene. It’s also in close proximity to Oslo (Lindstrom and Prins Thomas), Stockholm (Lykke Li), and Berlin (too many greats to name here) put it at the center of many wonderful movements in electronic music. Then there’s its name. Ahem. There’s nothing little about dragons. There’s the fact that this act, that’s relatively unknown here in the U.S. spent a good portion of 2009 touring with TV on the Radio. And, most recently, there’s the name of its sophomore release for Peacefrog, Machine Dreams, which, channeling the alternate reality of Philip K. Dick, starts playing with artificial intelligence and the juxtaposition of man and machine.
With a solitary, modulating tone, the slumbering robot that is Machine Dream slowly stirs on its opening track, “A New.” Undulating bass and marching band snare follow to bring things fully to life. But when lead singer Yukimi Nagano enters the track, what had seemed to be our mechanically-led near-future, takes an organic turn. Nagano’s honey sweet song has wowed fans since her debut on Koop’s “Summer Sun” in 2001. Now, at the helm of Little Dragon, she’s found the perfect vehicle for her light-as-a-lullaby, gold-dust-inflected, jazz-folk incantations. So delicate is Nagano’s purr that it’s impossible to construe anything mechanical from it. All the more compelling then, when it’s found floating atop Little Dragon’s stuttering bass, piston-fire drumming and the electrical flow of its synth work.
Where the band’s self-titled first album sounded like experimentations in a mixed bag of styles that included forays into in soul, folk, electronic and downbeat indie rock, Machine Dream has harnessed these influences into one, molding an analog-meets-digital sound that is beefier, more mature and indelibly its own. On the lead single “Feather” swatches of ambient noise hang about like fluffy clouds as a bouncy drumbeat repeats like a rotating cogwheel, propelling Nagano through a sound-scape laced with a breathy robotic chorus of “ohs” and “aaahs.” Elsewhere productions make no disguise of their electronic roots, as on the abstractly ‘80s “Looking Glass,” which fuses Kraftwerkian computer chatter, big New Order-style snare hits and twinkling atmospherics.
If you’ve ever found yourself wondering what the inner thoughts and insecurities of a replicant from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? would look like if it were to be communicated to you as sublime jazz-infused electronic folk, then look no further than Machine Dreams. If you’ve never found yourself wondering about such A.I. abstractness, then now may be the time to start, because Little Dragon’s Machine Dreams presents a convincing argument that man and machine may not be as stark a contrast as you’d think.
- Joshua P. Ferguson