I have been in love with Yukimi Nagano, Little Dragon's singer, since first hearing her on a 2002 electronica/jazz album, Waltz for Koop, by the Swedish duo Koop. She is featured on two ("Summer Sun" and "Bright Nights") of the album's nine excellent tracks. Nagano's voice struck me immediately, forcefully, permanently. It was like seeing a rare bird in an old and misty forest. And I listened to these songs over and over, trying to see the details of this rare bird. But I could only get so close. I could only see so much. I saw her Japanese side (the wonderful weirdness of her phrasing), her Swedish folksiness, and her deep devotion to the rhythms of black American soul and jazz. But these elements were so mixed that I could not see where one ended and the other began.
Even her recent tunes with Little Dragon (three musicians, one singer) totally mystify me. When she sings, "Was it the blue night, gone fragile..." on the exquisite "Twice," that strange bird appears and heads deeper and deeper into the tune's cinematic strings, jazz bass, and melancholy piano. At one point in "Twice," however, something clearly breaks from her enigmatic mixture. That something is the ghost of Lady Day. This ghost, which has appeared on tunes like Erykah Badu's "On & On" and Telepopmusik's "Breathe," is very present in the line "Was it the light waves, so frightening..." There and then, Billie Holiday appears and vanishes.
In Little Dragon's "After the Rain," we hear a kind of warped Motown sound, a Diana Ross from another universe. In the dubby "Little Man," we hear nothing but the beam of Nagano's own ghost—the beam of a global soul. Above all, Nagano is a global singer. Hers is a sound that has the same currency in different parts of the world—Johannesburg, Detroit, London, Sydney, and Cairo. She may come from Sweden, but her voice is borderless.