Category: Little Dragon

Live review: Little Dragon at the Natural History Museum

Yukimi nagano It seemed fitting for the Swedish synth-pop band Little Dragon to kick off the Natural History Museum’s First Fridays series last week. If you wanted to stuff and mount a specimen of today’s tasteful, adventurous-enough indie electronica for posterity, the band would do nicely.

Little Dragon, a quartet fronted by the beguiling vocalist Yukimi Nagano, hits an evocative sweet spot of laptop noodling, Motown bass grooves and the expertly fussy percussion of Erik Bodin. By the band’s 2009 album, “Machine Dreams,” its members had become skilled at so many small things that collaborators from Gorillaz to José González came calling. But one thing Little Dragon is not good at is the big gesture — the hook to level an arena, the crescendo that moves feet against their will. And in a reverb-saturated setting such as the Natural History Museum, sometimes even its little moments felt a bit lost.

The band became a favorite of KCRW’s audience on the strength of singles such as “Feather” and “Blinking Pigs.” Each pairs interlocking elements such as fat Moog synthesizer bounces, jungle-quick drumming and opiated atmospheres to support Nagano’s vocals, which can feel embittered and searching all at once. On record, it’s performed with total control and restraint, and if it sometimes sits like background music, well, so much the better for one’s background.

Litlte-dragon-nat-hist-muse The problem comes when it has to command your attention. The hard-surfaced museum is a tough room for any band (and artists rarely have to compete with okapis and servals for a crowd’s loyalty). But it’s particularly hard on bands such as Little Dragon, for which a well-timed flitter of a synthesizer can make a tune sail or sag. Foundational elements, such as the band’s slinkily soulful bassist, Fredrick Källgren, made it through the fog. But Little Dragon needs precision to win you over.

Still, parts worked. The robotic girl-group jitters of “Never Never” had unexpected venom that made the rainy-day ballad feel scared and angry. The rolling piano lament “Twice,” appropriately deployed on “Grey’s Anatomy,” wound up the set with a moody set piece both comely and lonely.

The band is absolutely meticulous and curator-minded about its sound, but one couldn’t help but wish for at least one window-busting noise squall or a tribal drum breakdown to suggest the possibility of something feral. Little Dragon is capable of it — newer singles such as “Stranger” lean toward groaning dubstep basses and little barbed arpeggios, and the band’s contributions make “Empire Ants” the best song on Gorillaz’s new album, “Plastic Beach.” But Nagano & Co. have to find a way to check their own micromanagement at the stage door. The museum’s rooms of ferocious taxidermied beasts seemed apt — these were creatures meant to draw blood, but instead are left arranged behind glass.

-- August Brown

RELATED:

An interview with Yukimi Nagano

Photos: Yukimi Nagano performs with her synth-pop band, Little Dragon, on Friday. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times. Check out more photos of the Little Dragon concert at the Natural History Museum.

 

Little Dragon plays the Natural History Musuem, Echoplex this weekend: An interview with Yukimi Nagano

Press6 Little Dragon is one of those bands that inspires friends with whom you haven't spoken in six months to send you random text messages involving lavish approbation and a half-dozen exclamation marks.

Little Dragon formed as teenagers in Gothenburg, Sweden. Last year's "Machine Dream" fused '80s synth pop, late '90s R&B, '90s hip-hop and influences that alternately recall Blonde Redhead, Kraftwek, and Bjork.

But playing the connect-the-dots influences game does little justice to the quartet's originality. Eschewing guitars (save for Fredrik Wallin's funky bass lines), they craft something intensely modern, lively drums that mimic machines, synths that shimmer like a fata morgana, and a hip-hop intensity without sounding remotely rap-like.

Accordingly, they've been adopted by their chameleonic cognate Damon Albarn, who enlisted the band for a pair of tracks on last year's excellent "Plastic Beach." The collaborations led to Albarn's recruiting them to open for him on a recent tour of the United States.

In advance of Friday's show at the Natural History Museum's First Fridays series and Saturday's Echoplex performance, lead singer Yukimi Nagano spoke to Pop & Hiss about working with Albarn, their new record, and their love of the Pharcyde.

-- Jeff Weiss

Question: I imagine that the band isn't really the New Year's resolution type, but are there any goals that you hope to achieve this year?

Answer: Just to have a blast. Enjoy the shows we have booked up and release our third album without any trouble. Try to not fight and be happy. ... We have a lot of dreams, like it would be nice to be able to afford to bring dancers or like a private masseuse on the road one day, but it doesn't have to happen this year.

What was it like touring with the Gorillaz? Was it challenging for the band to fit into the scheme of the larger show at hand, did you have to change your approach to performance, or was it fairly natural?

It's always a challenge to be a opener, so we had to change our set around and think of something short but sweet. The stages and venues were so huge, which was another aspect that was different from what we were used to. After being on the road with the Gorillaz for a few weeks, everyone got to know each other and the vibe was good, and we always felt welcome and a part of the whole thing.

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DJ Shadow to headline KCRW Halloween party

Djshadow

The L.A. musical landscape is thick with options over the rapidly approaching Halloween weekend.

Beat-crazy dance aficionados can choose between the 12th annual Monster Massive at the L.A. Sports Arena and the expanded two-day HARD Haunted Mansion event at the Shrine. Indie rockers can check out stalwarts Built to Spill at the Echoplex and/or new heroes the Dirty Projectors at the Jensen Rec Center.

Public radio powerhouse KCRW has entered the Halloween party fray with “Masquerade,” a costume ball and dance party at the Park Plaza Hotel in downtown L.A. that now boasts Bay area legend DJ Shadow as the headliner.

DJ Shadow joins a lineup that already includes Swedish indie urban rock outfit Little Dragon alongside such local acts as mod folkie Sea Wolf and sunshine-poppers Edward Sharpe and  the Magnetic Zeros. A who’s who of KCRW DJs, including Liza Richardson, Jason Bentley and Garth Trinidad, will spin at the event too.

Tickets are available at KCRW.tix.com

-- Scott T. Sterling

Photo: DJ Shadow performing at the Mayan Theater. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times.

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