It is a crying shame that Little Dragon are quite possibly the most famous electronic outfit that no-one has ever heard of. They – or at least frontwoman Yukimi Nagano – has appeared on numerous projects in the last year, including on Gorillaz’ ‘Empire Ants’ from Plastic Beach, poppy album track ‘If You Return’ from Maximum Balloon and most recently on SBTRKT’s latest single ‘Wildfire.’ As a band though, the Swedish foursome are still somehow managing to languish in a pit of relative obscurity. Despite their numerous guest appearances they still haven’t broken through, but perhaps their third LP Ritual Union goes a long way to explaining this anomaly.
It all kicks off with the title track and lead single, in which Nagano flexes her sultry vocal talents – she used to be a lounge singer – and drummer Erik Bodin is on fine form. Any fan of the band will know that together they provide the glue that holds the band together, and here they combine alongside bassist Fredrik Kallgren and keyboard player Hakan Wirenstrand’s more virtuoso elements to create the poppiest element of the whole album. It is only really ‘Shuffle A Dream’, with its infectiously staccato vocals and increasingly fast pace, that matches the opener in terms of accessibility.
This though somehow manages to be both Little Dragon’s most sonically arresting album and the least accessible. Their last effort Machine Dreams showcased a much more pop-influenced side to their off-kilter talents, whereas Ritual Union takes more of its influences from R’n’B and club culture. ‘Please Turn’ builds from little more than percussion, while ‘Precious’ is partly Prince-influenced, whizzed together with some very dark dubstep – the alternative ‘Wildfire’ perhaps.
Ritual Union evolves slowly as it progresses, culminating in ‘When I Go Out,’ a dreamy track in which Nagano’s vocals are drenched in effects. It builds at a snail’s pace, though this allows the various elements to seep into you and let the track to become hypnotically engaging. The jazz elements that were prevalent in their debut album rear their head once again here, though re-imagined through a warped electronic mind, creating loud and dramatic scapes as it reaches the three and a half minute mark. It is the most interesting track here, but for the casual listener also the most baffling.
This is the enigma of Little Dragon. For fans they make beautiful and interesting music, yet for those who perhaps know them best as “that band who played with Gorillaz”, Ritual Union is perhaps puzzling and not immediate. This is an LP that takes more than one play to truly pinpoint, and just as many to appreciate. Then again, they tend to be the most lasting records, the ones you put on a year or so later and love just as much as the day you truly understood it. File Ritual Union under “ones to cherish.”
Ritual Union is out now on Peacefrog Records.