It’s always a pleasant surprise when an album can be explained with a Bible quote. Little Dragon’s New Me, Same Us is lovely, soulful Swedish pop that feels decades ahead of what you might hear coming over North American airwaves. Given how much of our music is either written or produced by Swedes, New Me, Same Us feels like you’re tapping directly into the pulse of pop without anything thinning it down. It’s the difference between an espresso shot and
Which brings us to Hebrews 5:12: “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.” The verse refers to teaching people about religion, and starting with easy concepts—milk—before going on to the more challenging ideas —strong meat.
Mainstream pop is milk, literally designed for children and trying to avoid any kind of response other than a Pavlovian one triggered by the inevitable product placement accompanying a track. Little Dragon is strong meat. This is pop for adults. Many will listen to New Me and dance along mindlessly, but eventually their guard will go down and they’ll find themselves haunted by this music that is, essentially, the cooler, much older sister, perhaps from a previous marriage, of everything on the charts.
“Stay Right Here” is complex, built upon interlocking bass riffs that hit you like kidney punches coming out of a boxing clinch. This isn’t a funk groove where the bass is keeping the song on track. This is almost jazz, with singer Yukimi Nagano’s voice providing the tune’s structure, weaving the bass and synth together and providing the song with its heartbeat. The track slowly unravels over six minutes, beats floating in an out, making it not so much a song, as an experience. In fact, it calls to mind a trip to the car wash, back in the day when they would let you ride through with your car: the quiet of the car-within-a-tunnel punctuated by the different sounds as you’re pulled from rinsing to washing to drying, ostensibly driving, because you’re behind the wheel, but really just a passenger yourself. I suspect this will one day be the basis for a huge North American pop song and that the artist who eventually records it has not yet been born.
What’s impressive about Little Dragon is that they can also handle more traditional, groove-oriented songs. “Another Lover” is sweet, casual, and soulful. The drums tap out a beat that sounds like someone nervously trying to get your attention from the other side of glass. “New Fiction” uses a familiar rock beat that’s offset by chimes. It’s all trippy and smart, designed to make you want to move without making you feel like you’re at a Sweet 16. Like seemingly all Swedish music collectives, Little Dragon has worked with lots of artists, from Gorillaz to Big Boi to Faith Evans. So their musical DNA is already on our continent. But what’s engrossing about New Me, Same Us is how they manage to make these familiar grooves and textures sound serious, but also fun. This is strong meat that goes down like a cold glass of milk (unless you’re lactose-intolerant, in which case it goes down like a cold glass of Lactaid).
review by Steven Ovadia
New Me, Same Us by Little Dragon, comes out on March 27th via Ninja Tune