Many people – myself included – will probably know Little Dragon less for their own music, and more for what their music does when complementing the output of others. In fact, such is their propensity for collaborations recently, it’s tempting to assume that the title ‘Ritual Union’ is actually describing the band coming together to make an album all of their own creation at last… a customary return, if you will, to recording their own stuff after all that fun breathing life into other artists’ efforts.
I was alerted to the presence of this Swedish electro-pop outfit only last year, when I bought Gorillaz’ orgy of artists, Plastic Beach. Finding the album tough to warm to initially, I returned to it in dribs and drabs, but mostly I kept coming back because I was utterly enamoured with the two Little Dragon contributions, To Binge and Empire Ants. My curiosity in the band thus piqued, I nevertheless completely failed to follow up this interest.
Then, just a month ago, I was nodding absent-mindedly along to SBTRKT’s snappy, syncopated beats when, lo and behold, Little Dragon’s firecracker vocalist Yukimi Nagano arrests my attention and steals the show again, this time over the wob-wob-wobby bass of album highlight Wildfire. Now I was definitely keen to know more about these enigmatic Swedish guest stars, who have a funny knack for popping up and enriching my experience of other musicians.
Lucky for me, just a week or so later, out they came with Ritual Union. Done with bringing the best out of others, it was time for Little Dragon to try and bring the best out of themselves. And I gotta admit, given the anticipation brought on by my long overdue unearthing of their solo material, I was not disappointed.
Ritual Union is Little Dragon’s 3rd LP, and one that in certain respects bears traces of the acts they’ve been associated with in the past 12 months; particularly the smooth, calculated dance-beats of SBTRKT. (The best evidence of this is the song Precious, which veers almost unexpectedly towards dubstep, whilst somehow also being the most blatantly RnB inflected song on here).
But fans expecting a bold, forceful re-affirming of Little Dragon’s identity, and a return to the hyperactive, smash ‘n’ grab electronics of 2009’s Machine Dreams, may well come away disappointed. On this album Nagano and her cronies have stripped their sound right down to the bare essentials: often just one single groove or rhythm, iced over with minor tweakings of synths and, of course, Nagano’s irresistibly emotive vocal delivery.
But this doesn’t mean they’ve sacrificed creativity for the sake of minimalism. It’s a sparser experimentalism than they’re accustomed to, but still one brimming with nimble shifts in mood and tempo, all cunningly orchestrated by Nagano, whose voice scampers over the mix like a wily fox out on the prowl, teasing melodies out of the electronic ether.
It’s not an instantaneous listen, needing a few repeats before taking hold, but once these hooks start prancing about inside your head its tough to get shot of them. I especially found this the case with the title track… I’m not sure my random aping of Nagano’s high pitched vocals is winning me a lot of friends at work.
So, rank this one alongside Metronomy’s The English Riviera and Radiohead’s King Of Limbs, as one of 2011’s real growers. Little Dragon’s ritual union was well worth the wait.
Ch-Check It Out If You’re Partial To – the collaborations they have done with Gorillaz, SBTRKT, Jose Gonzalez, Maximum Balloon; Yukimi Nagano’s wonderful voice… I like her, she’s ace; Electro-pop, of the minimal variety; a good grower; not being let down
Fantastic Track – Ritual Union