There's comfort in knowing that absurd hip-hop duo Little Stranger is still keeping it kooky. "We're pretty light-hearted dudes, and I think we try to get that across in our music," says John Shields. "We're more focused on cleverness of wordplay than deeply thematic songs." In dark times, John and Kevin Shields just keep plugging away with simple fun tunes. Their latest release, Styles & Dynamics, is another 20 minute excursion into giddy, easy-listening rap music.
Styles & Dynamics opens on a notably poppier note than previous releases, but listeners shouldn't mistake it for a heel turn. The EP sticks to all the goofball charm that made Little Stranger popular.
"Won't Amount to Nothin'" quickly reveals that Little Stranger hasn't lost a step. John's production still bumps and bounces. Muted guitars, thumping basslines, and smart record scratches keep the party moving. "What's up, bruh, it's the return of the hippies/ sorry that your mainstream blog didn't fit me/ sorry that your tiny worldview looks shitty/ and I'm sorry that your girlfriend's butt is itty-bitty," Kevin raps as he cuts through the beat.
- Styles & Dynamics sticks to all the goofball charm that made Little Stranger popular.
The tune sits apart for a simple reason. "The opening track on this one, is actually a song my dad wrote," says John. "He wrote it back in the day, in the '80s. The sample at the beginning of the song is his original version, then we chopped and screwed it our own way. But that one, for instance, we've been sitting on for three years."
The duo pulled the same trick with their 2016 single "Queens of the Nile," which John's father also wrote.
Little Stranger samples a couple different flavors on this EP, while staying close to the funhouse hip-hop that made them local heroes.
"Augustina" sees John flirting with a '90s California beat and Kevin flirting with a church-going beauty. "Now I lay me down to sleep/ I'm all alone and counting sheep/ so, if there is one god above/ come on, let your boy get a little bit of love," Kevin raps over a heavenly beat.
"We don't tend to take a life experience and try to replicate it in a song," Kevin says about the band's nature. "We more just really like having fun with music and playing around with things and seeing where we can push it."
The woman that the song was named after was a singer-songwriter that John and Kevin met on the road. Augustina herself appears later on the EP at the end of "Every Woman," which was also a little break from the silly norm.
In the grip of deep and thorough production, John composes a downbeat, spacey track. "I fall in love with every woman I see, but they don't give a damn about me/ tough love got me broke down, beat up, and broke down," says Kevin in his usual funky flow.
Despite the moody romantic anguish of the top layer, the band kept self-deprecation at the front of their minds while writing it. "We joke around about literally every girl we see on the road, like 'I love you,'" laughs Kevin. He concludes that the song was them "poking fun at ourselves and how weak we are."
Keeping things bubbly is still the Little Stranger way, even when they're out for blood, like Style & Dynamics' closing statement, "Sing it High." The track is destined to be an essential Little Stranger standard. The chorus is earworm catchy, the production is alive with plenty of horn flourishes and funk organs, and a galloping stream of words.
The presence of the band's last EP, Techniques, lingers in the sound of Styles & Dynamics because the two projects started life as one. "When we released Techniques last year, it was supposed to be a full-length, 10 song thing. And then we decided to split it up into two," says John. "This is kind of the counterpart to our first release, Techniques."
"A few of the songs on it, we've been playing live for so long — 'Sing it High,' '1969,' we've been playing live since before we ever put any music out, so it's so nice to have them finally out," Kevin adds. "The other ones feel so much newer to us, now."
As with most new releases from recording artists, Little Stranger is excited to put the EP out, but expressed eagerness to turn the page and work from scratch on the next project. "We're so pumped to put this EP out and move on to pretty much a clean slate of material, because we've been sitting on these for a while, now," says John.