Little Dragon’s Big Sound

Swedish Synth-Soul Sensations Join Glass Animals at S.B. Bowl

Courtesy Photo

These days, countless songs and sounds are made or produced electronically, but it really wasn’t that long ago that a huge number of music listeners at large turned their noses up at electronic and synthetic sounds, decrying them as less legitimate, less soulful, less real. Those listeners had likely not yet heard double headliners like Little Dragon and Glass Animals, the electronic music innovators who will charge up the S.B. Bowl on Saturday, April 22, with psychedelic Australian act Jagwar Ma supporting.

With some of the most soulful and sensual synthetic sounds since the ’70s, yet with an edge and sensitivity that makes them thrillingly of the moment and progressive, Gothenburg’s Little Dragon has emerged as one of the most compelling dance and electronic music bands of the last decade. They will heat up the night with Oxford’s Glass Animals, who continue the legacy of their home ’shire’s most famous band, Radiohead, with arrestingly groovy, dark music matching electric guitar with inventive percussion, synth-y soundscapes, and earworm choruses.

Few recently formed electronic-rock/indie-rock acts are currently as big as Glass Animals, who visited Santa Barbara at the Earl Warren Showgrounds in 2015. They released their second studio album, How to Be a Human Being, last year to instant acclaim. The album debuted in the top 20 on the Billboard 200 chart and was featured as one of U.S.A. Today’s “10 Best Albums of 2016,” as well as Under the Radar’s “Top 100 Albums of 2016,” and NPR named the single “Life Itself” as a song they could not stop playing. Though the security line to see them two years ago was infamously and torturously long, their hotly energized performance seemed antidote enough for the roaring crowd.

Perhaps slightly lesser known, the nonetheless globally loved Little Dragon is flourishing at present, but theirs was a more slow-growing success story. Formed in 1996 when the band members were young teens, they have managed to stay together ever since. The band takes its moniker from lead singer Yukimi Nagano’s nickname; her inimitable voice is one of their greatest strengths.

Complementing Nagano’s intoxicating vox are the rich, emotive electronics of Erik Bodin (drums), Fredrik Källgren Wallin (bass), and Håkan Wirenstrand (keyboard). Wirenstrand remembers growing up listening to synth pioneer Vangelis’s compositions for Blade Runner, as well as the soundtrack to a Swedish nature program, music that molded his mind. “They mainly put the seeds in the soil,” he said on the phone from rainy Gothenburg. When it comes to how they shape those sexy R&B-styled sound worlds, “we're kind of bad at analyzing ourselves,” Wirenstrand says, with music coming out in that effortless, funky way that escapes words. Certainly, there’s an exploratory, perception-bending element to their creative wellspring: “We are hidden hippies with a lot of crappy synths.”

The sound found a “second home” in California, he said, with KCRW being one of their earliest big supporters. There must be something Californian, Wirenstrand conjectured, about their “laidback groove,” and their newest album, Season High, just released this April, features sonic memories of West Coast hip-hop and lo-fi indie on single “High.” But then there are also songs such as “Sweet,” an adrenalized, almost arcade-game music dance track that has a bit more BPMs than their usual grooves. Used to making music that’s a little bit “slow,” Wirenstrand said, “we're striving to do a little bit more energetic music, and I think that we received that on this record.”

When asked if Wirenstrand anticipates the Little Dragon members working on solo projects, he didn’t see it as happening any time soon. “I think we're always going to be a band until the bitter end … whether we’re pensioners or jamming at the hospital, we’re still going to be a band.”

4∙1∙1 Little Dragon plays with Glass Animals and Jagwar Ma at the Santa Barbara Bowl (1122 N. Milpas St.) on Saturday, April 22, at 6 p.m. For more information, visit sbbowl.com.

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