Over nearly three decades, Swedish quartet Little Dragon has preserved a refined sense of style. Collectively, bassist Fredrik Wallin, keyboardist Håkan Wirenstrand, drummer Erik Bodin, and singer-songwriter Yukimi Nagano put a light spin on easygoing digital soul and electronic pop, Nagano’s distinctive, acrobatic voice conjuring brisk coolness and intense yearning alike. It’s a recipe they’ve accompanied with an extensive list of inventive, high-profile collaborations, including unexpected names like Kaytranada and De La Soul. On their seventh album Slugs of Love, the band provides another serving of danceable pop-soul and R&B, this time infused with an unwavering sense of optimism. Continuing the playful whimsy heard on their 2020 tour de force New Me, Same Us, here Little Dragon strengthen their elastic sound with wry lightheartedness and lean adjustments, injecting new verve into their songwriting in the process.

Slugs of Love delights in a carefree, mosaic approach. The band dials into a familiar mid-tempo sweet spot on “Frisco” and “Tumbling Dice,” both of which easily slot into their catalog of subdued bops; the latter conjures ’90s nostalgia, with a shuffling drum beat and an elated synth melody that feels lifted from a forgotten video game soundtrack. The band lets loose in other ways too, recontextualizing their typically polished sound: Nagano channels Donna Summer on the thumping throwback “Disco Dangerous,” letting her voice bend into a rapturous coo against loopy bass lines, while the centerpiece “Gold” carries an irresistible pulse that recalls Robyn at her most emotive peaks. The variation works in their favor, as on the tender opener “Amöban.” In a honeyed voice, Nagano admits to being a “neurotic mess” who is anxious about “sharing a song, a poem, a painting” with someone new. Working with a minimalist technique, they balance a simple slide whistle with a drum that knocks like a heartbeat, adding a gentle touch to Nagano’s vulnerability.

The themes of “Amöban” recall Little Dragon’s own trajectory as a band happy to remain on the fringes of mainstream fame; in this relaxed, more comfortable spot, they can experiment at will. “Is success winning a Grammy, or is success putting out music, or is success a feeling, or is it having one person at a show be moved for the rest of their lives?” Nagano acknowledged in a 2020 interview. Here, Little Dragon seem less concerned with existential career problems, instead leaning into the rush of romance and friendship. “Don’t spiral down into worries that visit you,” Nagano encourages during the chipper “Stay,” which recruits Atlanta rapper JID over delicate squiggles and harmonies that linger like a sunbeam. The title track, with a brief saxophone interlude that adds lush jazz textures to its motorik drum beat, casts slugs as a metaphor for indulging in obsessive pleasure, a surrealistic choice that typifies the record’s sense of humor and insistence on finding joy and ecstasy where you can. “Have a feast at the table/Slimy dream maker,” Nagano croons. “Be forever a craver.”

Occasionally, Slugs of Love meanders off course; “Lily’s Call” relies on a dramatic, prolonged buildup with no payoff. “Glow,” featuring a brief appearance from Damon Albarn, is an oneiric, bland ballad with listless oscillating synths and undulating bass, an odd outcome considering Little Dragon provided what is arguably one of Gorillazmost unforgettable guest features a decade ago. But the album rebounds on its celestial closing track, “Easy Falling,” a plush comedown that breezes by on gentle guitar and Nagano’s leisurely melodies. Like the album’s best songs, it offers a worthwhile escape with understated grace.

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Little Dragon: Slugs of Love