You could be forgiven for expecting Little Dragon’s fifth album to sound kind of strained. When the Swedish electro crew announced ‘Season High’, their follow-up to 2014’s Grammy-nominated ‘Nabuma Rubberband’, they didn’t exactly gush about the creative process. “We’re four strong wills who find it really frustrating to co mpromise,” singer Yukimi Nagano said. “We’ve gotten better at that, but it’s still a real battle. It gets harder and harder for us to make records, but we still love it.”
So it’s a pleasant surprise to report that ‘Season High’ actually feels pretty effortless. Produced by the Gothenburg four-piece with Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford, this is a fresh and inventive electropop record with a healthy disregard for current chart trends. There are no painful attempts to incorporate tropical house, and when you expect a chorus, you always get a chorus – not a trendy, Major Lazer-style drop.
Fittingly for an album that contains a song called ‘The Pop Life’, Little Dragon really bring the hooks here. With its refrain of “let love drip”, ‘Celebrate’ is a sexy blend of Prince and ’80s Janet Jackson. ‘Should I’, a midtempo electro rush, comes off like a freaky Pet Shop Boys-Neneh Cherry mash-up. And the breathy dance-pop of ‘Sweet’ is so cute and catchy, it could almost be a more experimental Kylie Minogue hit.
In fact, Little Dragon only really falter when their songwriting loses its pop focus. The offbeat electronica of ‘Butterflies’ spreads its musical ideas a little too thin, while final track ‘Gravity’ meanders towards the end of its seven-minute runtime. Yet those self-indulgent moments don’t kill the vibe.
This is an album that delivers both mood and melody, thanks in no small part to Nagano. Whether she’s whispering “it’s your birthday” suggestively on ‘Celebrate’, or asking a lover to “roll another one for me” on ‘High’, she’s a compelling presence who really sells her band’s sleek and sophisticated tunes.