Little Dragon : Slugs of Love

Little Dragon Slugs of Love review

I’ve always believed that Little Dragon—the Swedish quartet who time and time again proves every form of pop/electronic-oriented music can be manufactured out of their home-built Gothenburg studio—suffered (and that’s an extreme version of the word) from what I call Ron Carter Syndrome. According to the Guinness World Records, he is the most recorded bassist in jazz history. Not just talented, he’s the best ever. Period. A resume that reads like a Ph.D.-level music course. He’s backed up Miles, Aretha, Jobim, filled in doing overdubs for Bootsy—you get the picture. Flawless, son.

Carter’s supple, expressive moments, more often than not, appeared on other artists’ records. Not his. You can theorize the reason forever. Taking directives on how a session should go bypasses critical interior thinking. That’s a fact—do the gig and leave. The heavy lifting resides in selecting who you want to play. Trust: Ron Carter will bring the skill set. Your job? Hit record.

For years Little Dragon has been categorized and regulated to that zone of “they’ll blow up the collab, kill it as a guest on your project” but not since 2009’s Machine Dreams, have they fully brought as much creativity and chance, risk and freedom, naked for the world to see, on their own project. Yet they perform and own that global audience.

Slugs of Love finds Yukimi Nagano petitioning for the role of vocalist for a generation. That’s a very vanilla thing to say, but she’s the lead engineer for a band that can take chances, dip, and move on from that fashionable version of R&B. Slugs of Love sees Little Dragon getting freaky with it, trying on ill-fitting figures, stretching the repertoire, and putting their collective foot on the accelerator of progress.

Even the whistle-driven opener just feels evergreen and so centering: “Amöban” asserts that a change, a good one, is in store for the LD fans. That drum-and-bassy rhythm track run under squiggly, synthy imprints, with the band singing quietly as a unit. Feels like home, baby. And yes, folks are gonna focus on the J.I.D. verse in “Stay”, which fits snugly, and of course Damon Albarn’s humane vocals on “Glow.” They’re fine.

But I have other places to go, shinier spots that prove Little Dragon is sticking the landing on this career-turning record. Can we talk about their hustling, shuffling, fussy, R&B flow meets disco on “Frisco”? It’s prime Yukimi Nagano, shining—doing her own Miles Davis, choosing her spots. Where not to vocalize, and letting the band—who do electronic music for a pop audience better than half the cut-and-paste gangsters who get digital ink in electronic music platforms—do their thing. Little Dragon’s connection, one that other folks have a really hard time following, gets right down to it. Making the serious breakdown, about two thirds in, they accelerate the groove to gossamer levels without the Aoki cake throws.

And that’s the thing: Slugs of Love digs in and believes in all the swerving ways the band is maneuvering about. “Kenneth” works its pop-funk wares like a footwork break that tells Tik-Tok’s algorithm to go pound sand. But back to the album’s title track, an ultra-flexy move summing up the bands’ elevated design. Flipping into that minimal post-punk mode, working those gentle minor, quick-hitting, keyboard color palettes, while Yukimi decides to Toni Basil the shit out of you. Ron Carter syndrome, no more.

Label: Ninja Tune

Year: 2023

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