As we move further into the era of internet radio, instant downloads, and widely available streaming services, the role of the traditional greatest hits album should be called into question. Repackaging and reselling songs from an artist’s career that meet some vague, arbitrary criteria today seems like an antiquated remnant of a music industry that still refuses to let go of outdated business practices, an archaic music delivery model in a time when Spotify, YouTube, and – there’s no sense ignoring them – torrenting sites are all seconds away from consumers. What purpose do these compilations serve when one can simply tune into Michael Jackson radio on Pandora, shuffle Madonna’s most popular tracks on Spotify, or watch Paul McCartney perform full live sets on YouTube in a matter of seconds?
In the case of Swedish synthpop group Little Dragon’s Best Of, the relative value is embarrassingly small. Best Of, compiled by Peacefrog Records, features 14 tracks that Little Dragon released on the label before moving to Republic for their fourth album, Nabuma Rubberband. That’s right: Best Of comes after only three full-length Little Dragon albums, a band that’s had minimal mainstream success and no “hits” to speak of. Make no mistake, Best Of appears very clearly to be a cynical cash-grab by the band’s former label hoping to profit from the almost sure success of the then-upcoming Nabuma Rubberband, but even if that weren’t the case, Best Of is an unnecessary and slapdash venture.
Let’s break down the contents of the compilation: of the 14 included tracks (picked for this collection seemingly at random), five come from Little Dragon’s 2007 self-titled debut and their 2009 follow-up Machine Dreams each, only three from 2011’s Ritual Union, and one non-album single (“Sunshine,” which coincidentally kicks off the collection). This means that owning one of the band’s first two records means owning more than one-third of Best Of (plus a proper Little Dragon record), meaning one would be better off purchasing one of the other two albums – or better yet the excellent Nabuma Rubberband – rather than shelling out for a shallow, incomplete version of the Little Dragon library.
For the uninitiated, Little Dragon is one of those unabashedly modern bands that somehow manage to fuse synthpop and new wave sensibilities with dreamy, soulful vocals to create a sugary lightness paradoxically weighed down by melancholic sensuality. The songs on Best Of do actually showcase the breadth of the Little Dragon spectrum, from the dark seduction of piano ballad “Twice” to the minimalist upbeat pop tones of “Recommendation”, with vocalist Yukimi Nagano providing a constant gravitational center for the plucky, understated electronic drums and atmospheric synthesizer licks. Flavorful, shimmering synth-driven songs like “Feather”, “Runabout” and “Sunshine” serve as reliable counterpoints for the restless yearning of slow jams like “Fortune”, “No Love” and “Scribbled Paper”, while the off-beat charm of “Test” and “Little Man” stand alone. If Best Of succeeds at anything, it’s showing the flexibility of Little Dragon’s electro-soul sound.
It’s still difficult to reconcile the disparity between the beautiful music on the album and the offensive manner in which it’s been repackaged. The songs are great, of course, and they’re sequenced fairly sensibly, but the standards for a “best of” compilation need to be higher than what is basically a shuffled playlist of an artist’s first three albums, especially when each of those albums are all well within a moment’s grasp.
The bottom line is that Little Dragon is an exceptionally talented band, but this is not the best way to experience their catalog. From that perspective, it’s impossible to recommend Best Of, especially since Nabuma Rubberband, arguably the band’s best release, came just months later, arranged the way that they originally intended it to be heard. If you’re new to Little Dragon’s music and would prefer a sampler such as this as a jumping-off point, by all means seek this collection out, but know that you’re essentially paying for a truncated, abridged version of three quality records from a talented young band that deserves much better.