Review Summary: A draining relationship with isolation.
Every time I listen to Little Dragon’s debut, one image always comes back into my mind over all others: a human figure, wrapped in shadow, looking out into the rain from his or her own dimly-lit house. I suppose that should be considered a testament to the electronica outfit’s stunning use of atmosphere, as there’s a fascinating rift between soulful intimacy and cold distance in the record. “No Love” sums it up best: lyrics like “no love in this room/no love left in him/no love in my soul left for you” are greeted by welcoming jazz figures and a simplistic trip-hop beat that create such an inviting presence. Little Dragon simply revel
in drawing complex emotions out of deceptively easy songwriting. In fact, the earnestness and humility we get from Little Dragon
is exactly what creates so much contrast in regards to mood and tone. It’s a superb way to get the listener tuned into the group’s strengths because it strips their talents to such a basic core. You can immediately pick out a song and recognize its defining features. What’s “Recommendation” all about？ Well, it has a hypnotic bass repetition from Fredrik Wallin and a fun sing-along vocal melody from Yukimi Nagano. How about “Stormy Weather？” That one has smooth crooning over an easygoing ambient motif. But beneath the surface of such identifiable features, the real emphasis of Little Dragon
is on imagery.
This brings me back to that image I wrote about in the beginning of the review: the shadow figure looking out into the rain. There aren’t any other features I can add on top of that image, as it’s simply all I can visualize. However, such a simple mental portrait can still beget so much contemplation, and this is where Little Dragon shine right from the beginning. “Twice,” the gorgeous and heart-rending opener, wraps you up in a tender cyclical piano line while crashing down your barriers of security with a potent dose of melancholy. “Turn Left” goes even further by forgoing accessibility altogether and just honking out dissonant synth chords, guarding Nagano’s sweet vocal melodies in a thick wall of secrecy and discontent. And perhaps the most notable midpoint between the two is “Place to Belong,” which constantly shifts and slides between pulsating beats and spaced-out synth glitters for a piece that’s both mesmerizing and unsettling. If there’s anything Little Dragon
teaches us, it’s that comfort doesn’t necessarily equal happiness and warmth doesn’t necessarily equal contentment. It’s a harsh lesson to teach, but it amounts to a wealth of compelling music to consume and, most importantly, get wrapped up in. The Vespertine
-esque strings that accompany closer “Scribble Paper” seem to address the melancholy upfront, seeping into a jazz-like bass/drum motif for a truly unique experience of emotional gutting. It’s as if Little Dragon wanted to wrap up the thesis statement that was “Twice” and complete the cycle of ever-shifting moods with the same darkness that began it. However, every time I finish Little Dragon
, that little image of rainfall in my head compels me to come back for more isolation and comfort. It rips out another piece of me each time I hear it, but it’s so damn inviting all the same.