Little Dragon – ‘New Me, Same Us’ review: moments of genius pulled off course by half-baked electro-pop ideas

The Swedish pop group find creative harmony on their sixth album, with dazzling, unhinged moments that are worth fighting over – but a frustrating complacency, too

Internal strife is sometimes a band’s most useful weapon. Back in the 1970s, the sexual tension between members of Fleetwood Mac produced the spiteful masterpiece, ‘Rumours’. Brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher’s ever-changing devotion and disgust towards each other is what made Oasis one of the most notorious bands in British history.

Little Dragon’s ups-and-downs are decidedly less dramatic but becoming harder to ignore, considering their centrality to the narrative of each release. When they released their last album, 2017’s ‘Season High’, the Gothenburg band said making a cohesive record is a “real battle” and it gets “harder and harder” to make them.

Their new effort ‘New Me, Same Us’, however, comes from a recalibration period. It’s been presented as back-to-basics, their “most collaborative” yet. Having formed in 1996, it’s an admirable step, though perhaps puzzling that it’s taken quite this long.

Whether they’re loved-up or at each other’s throats, the perceived wisdom of Little Dragon remains: staggering highs, but a lack of consistency. Their big-name collaborations with Gorillaz, Flying Lotus, Kaytranada and more have often overshadowed their work, though they remain a thrilling live prospect. An upcoming show at London’s O2 Academy Brixton was recently postponed due to coronavirus, but the booking of a venue that big proves their continued ability to enchant fans new and old.

2018’s ‘Lover Chanting’ EP – their first release on cult electronic label Ninja Tune – offered a glimpse of a band regenerated, where wonky beats (‘In My House’) writhe next to glistening pop made for sunset raves. Jayda G’s disco-friendly remix elevated the title track, which was already one of their best ever tunes.

Occasionally, ‘New Me, Same Us’ picks off where they left that EP. Opener ‘Hold On’ is a silky and celestial groover that proves when they shimmy towards the dancefloor, the results can be spectacular. On ‘Are You Feeling Sad?’, Yukimi Nagano’s irreplaceable vocals meet Colombian icon-in-the-making Kali Uchis’, another artist whose smoky, stunning range has made her an in-demand collaborator. Meanwhile, the funk-laden ‘New Fiction’ and ‘Rush’ simmer with brooding energy and dexterous playing, that finally in-tune collaborative mindset allowing every last element to shine.

Frustratingly, those moments are fleeting. The remainder of the record is perfectly pleasant – ‘Kids’ and ‘Another Lover’ are highlights – but the second half’s course of downtempo electro-pop becomes a stodgy mush of half-baked ideas. It does Nagano’s vivid lyricism a great disservice, particularly on the ‘Stay Right Here’ where her slithering visions are wasted: “Purple pink flowers moving on my dress/Stillness explode with one electric kiss”.

Little Dragon might have found some much-needed harmony after periods of inner-turmoil, but despite the dazzling moments, ‘New Me, Same Us’ is proof that a realigned vision can come with the price of complacency.

Details

  • Release date: March 27
  • Record label: Ninja Tune
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