Listening to Gorillaz’ 2010 album Plastic Beach feels like a crash-course in transportative music. You can imagine basking in the sun on the tropical island featured in the cover art, giant frozen cocktail in hand. Of course, as a fictional band, Gorillaz have special insight into creating a fantastical sound, but they had help from collaborators, including Little Dragon. The Swedish four-piece is no stranger to world-building in their work, particularly in the music video for their 2007 song “After the Rain,” which features a miniature landscape dominated by snails. Their whimsy and frontperson Yukimi Nagano’s ethereal voice made Little Dragon the perfect fit to bring Gorillaz’ “Empire Ants” into the stratosphere.
Just over a decade later, Little Dragon still are incorporating escapism into their latest album in a time when we desperately need it. New Me, Same Us has been billed as a return to the band’s roots, self-produced and recorded in their studio in Gothenburg. There is a clear through-line to their self-titled debut, with Nagano’s soulful voice grounding the band as they test the boundaries of electro-pop. On their latest release, though, Little Dragon seem more willing to retreat into a world of their own creation, one with a pastel, plastic sheen to it, comforting in its artificiality.
Part of manufacturing their own world is coming up with the right language for it. Nagano often sings fragments of sentences on New Me, Same Us, her singular vocals transforming even the most nonsensical lines into poetry. The way she utters “pink roller coaster crack” on “Kids” is so satisfying, even if we don’t necessarily know what it means in the context of the song (an exploration of what it’s like to age as a musician). Little Dragon always aims for the evocative, like “Rush rush blowing coming going / Wind be blowing rush rush blowing” on “Rush” or “Fiction pump blood flooding water love / We felt like gods again” on “New Fiction.” Beachy final track “Water” features some of Little Dragon’s most potent imagery to date: “I dissolve into your embrace.”
Little Dragon Land is primarily sculpted, though, by the expert synthesis of sound on the record, distilling the best of R&B, electronica and dance pop and blending them all together. “Kids,” “Stay Right Here” and “Water” all leave over a minute after the lyrics die away for band members to play off each other, creating lush soundscapes. After some sludgy moments, the outro for “Kids” centers on an Eastern-inspired melody, distorted until it dissipates. Guitar and synth push and pull back and forth on “Stay Right Here,” the sonic version of watching the tide go in and out, and “Water” layers appropriately liquid effects. “Every Rain,” which starts out emulating Top 40 R&B, eventually integrates sounds that resemble tiny aliens playing space violins. Little Dragon craft music you want to bathe or even drown in—it’s that enrapturing.
Among the otherworldly moments are also a few classic baby-making tunes—with the usual Little Dragon twist, though. A bell-laden intro quickly transitions into a smooth groove on “New Fiction,” and “Where You Belong” may as well be the theme song for bedroom eyes. It’s time to light a few candles and break out that silk robe.
Now more than ever, the escapist quality of music cannot be underestimated. Little Dragon heartily delivers on that front throughout New Me, Same Us, opening the door to a candy-colored world where the beats are chill and every word is sung softly by Nagano.
Revisit Little Dragon’s 2010 Daytrotter session: