Album Reviews

Little Dragon – Slugs Of Love

(Ninja Tune) UK release date: 7 July 2023

Now in their third decade together, the Gothenburg outfit have made an upfront experience from beginning to end, an album that rarely holds back

Little Dragon - Slugs Of Love Time plays tricks in pop music. To these ears, Little Dragon still feel like a new band – yet remarkably they have been releasing left of centre pop music from their Gothenburg base for more than 15 years now. However, as seventh album Slugs Of Love shows, they are continuing to find new ways of expressing themselves. The quartet have always made distinctive music, notable for quirky riffs and intriguing stories, and fronted by the instantly recognisable vocals of Yukimi Nagano.

Yet something here is different, in a good way. Whereas previous albums may have suffered from overproduction, or a tendency to write modern soul music that could retreat into the background, Slugs Of Love is an upfront experience from beginning to end. Here is an airy album not afraid to fully let itself go and experiment, rarely holding back, and encouraging flights of fancy. As a result, the band come out of their shell time and time again.

Consistently they reach the heights. The title track is a good case in point, Nagano letting her hair down with playful whoops but keeping the special intimacy that the best Little Dragon tracks have. This comes to the fore in the very different Glow. Here is an extended song with deeply felt vocals from Nagano in league with Damon Albarn. Here they are reprising a vocal match that began in 2010 with the Gorillaz track Empire Ants, from the Plastic Beach. The mood is not all that different, a dreamy production gathering in power, but this time Albarn’s telling contribution comes from the lower register, and his vocals are the ideal match for the chanteuse Nagano up top.

Elsewhere there are some excellent tracks. Disco Dangerous and Frisco channel the spirit of uptempo Prince, getting their groove on but providing some oblique riffs. So too does Tumbling Dice, sashaying effortlessly onto the dancefloor. Stay charts the ebb and flow of a relationship in the company of JID, who makes an excellent vocal contribution, while Lily’s Call adds a heavier and more serious tones. Gold is a triumph, going back to slinky R&B as its chorus channels Whitney Houston’s Million Dollar Bill, while Kenneth, a subtly moving tribute to a childhood friend, has a polystyrene-sounding rhythm track that ricochets across the stereo picture.

This all feels like authentic Little Dragon, the album they have been threatening to make for years. In previous attempts they may have come up just short, but when Nagano sings “I wanna feel something real” on album closer Easy Falling, the quietest track on the album, it’s easy to believe her. In their third decade together, here are a band still reaching for the heights.

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