Instantly recognizable by the coolly expressive vocals of Yukimi Nagano, the output of Swedish quartet Little Dragon could be summarized as predominantly downtempo electronic pop. At the same time, they’ve naturally incorporated a left-field mix of contemporary R&B, hip-hop, and underground dance music with references dating back to disco, new wave, and classic vocal jazz. The band made their full-length debut with Little Dragon (2007), the source of the chilling ballad “Twice,” beginning a streak of Top Five dance/electronic albums with Ritual Union (2011), and hit the Top 15 of the U.K. chart with Nabuma Rubberband (2014), which earned them a Grammy nomination for Best Dance/Electronic Album. Since then, they’ve added to their discography with releases such as Season High (2017) and New Me, Same Us (2020). Throughout their career, they’ve expanded their audience with a shrewd and continuous array of featured appearances on recordings by Gorillaz, SBTRKT, Kaytranada, and Flying Lotus, among several other artists.
Yukimi Nagano (vocals, keyboards, percussion), Erik Bodin (drums, keyboards), Fredrik Wallin (keyboards, bass, percussion), and Håkan Wirenstrand (keyboards, drums) formed Little Dragon in their native Gothenburg, Sweden. Named after a tag Nagano was given in response to her occasionally fiery studio temperament, the band made their recorded debut in 2006 with the “Test” single, released on the independent Scandinavian label Off the Wall. This led to a deal with the larger British indie Peacefrog, which released their self-titled debut album the next August. Its fusion of left-field jazz, R&B, and hip-hop flavorings found a cult audience and was given a boost when the opening song, the hushed piano ballad “Twice,” was featured during the 2008-2009 season of Grey’s Anatomy. Rather than continue in the same mode, the quartet changed direction with icy, hook-loaded electro-pop for their second album, Machine Dreams, released in August 2009.
Subsequent touring with Gorillaz, who also featured the quartet on the 2010 album Plastic Beach (“Empire Ants,” “To Binge”), as well as additional studio collaborations with Dave Sitek’s Maximum Balloon (“If You Return”), Raphael Saadiq (“Just Don’t”), and SBTRKT (“Wildfire”), increased visibility and anticipation for the band’s third album. A fusion and refinement of the first two LPs, Ritual Union was met with some international commercial success upon its July 2011 arrival, peaking at number 47 on the Swedish national chart, number 22 in the U.K., and number 78 in the U.S., where it also hit number four on the dance/electronic chart. Little Dragon’s featured appearances soon extended to include recordings by DJ Shadow (“Scale It Back”) and Big Boi (“Thom Pettie”).
Predominantly self-contained up to that point with their own output, Little Dragon themselves started to look outside their bubble by making their fourth LP with Robin Hannibal and De La Soul’s Dave on multiple tracks, while the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra provided another layer. At the same time, they drew inspiration from Prince and Janet Jackson, as well as the dark, cold winter environment of their hometown. The result, Nabuma Rubberband — their first LP for Loma Vista in the U.S. and Because Music elsewhere — appeared in May 2014, after a run of three promotional singles. It went Top 15 U.K. and Top 25 U.S., where it also narrowly missed the very top of the dance/electronic chart, and months later was nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Dance/Electronic Album.
Through the next couple years, Little Dragon were heard on tracks headlined by the likes of Odesza (“Light”) and Mac Miller (“The Festival”), as well as Kaytranada (“Bullets”), Flume (“Take a Chance”), and De La Soul (“Drawn”). They returned in April 2017 with album five, Season High, their third straight Top Five dance/electronic chart entry. By the end of the year, they also released a non-album track, “Peace of Mind,” produced with Raphael Saadiq and featuring Faith Evans. In 2018, they released the singles “Sway Daisy” and “Best Friends,” were featured on tracks by BadBadNotGood and Tinashe, and moved to the Ninja Tune label for the four-track EP Lover Chanting, issued that November. Co-starring roles on material from Little Simz, Flying Lotus, and sir Was, along with a trio of their own singles — including the Kali Uchis collaboration “Are You Feeling Sad?” — led to the March 2020 arrival of the Billboard-charting New Me, Same Us, their first proper Ninja Tune album and sixth LP overall. Later that year they teamed up with Ghanaian-American artist Moses Sumney for the track “The Other Lover.” A remix version of New Me, Same Us featuring contributions from Sumney, Octo Octa, and Lil Silva, among others, arrived the following year. ~ Andy Kellman