Release Date: May 13, 2014
Record label: Loma Vista Recordings
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Club/Dance, Indie Electronic, Synth Pop, Alternative R&B
That carefree and innocent look contradicts the sound of Little Dragon's fourth album. It doesn't look like it should begin with an austere, shuddering ballad in which Yukimi Nagano achingly stews prior to resolving, as ice flows through her veins, "You're gonna make me put my fist through this mirror." Recorded in the group's native Gothenburg and evidently affected by the region's grim winter weather -- as well as Janet Jackson ballads, and maybe a suffocating relationship -- Nabuma Rubberband contains little in the way of bopping bop. The driving lead single "Klapp Klapp," released almost three months prior to the album, isn't representative, though its stormy synthesizer undercurrents hinted at the overall mood.
Little Dragon are placed in a bit of a conundrum with their fourth studio album Nabuma Rubberband. When the band first emerged in 2007 with their self-titled debut, the electronic music movement wasn’t yet filtered, funneled and repackaged as EDM. Nabuma finds them looking to expand by experimenting with various styles—from the bossa nova undertones of opener “Mirror” to the zippy electro-guitar licks of “Klapp Klapp.
Modern pop is in a strange place. Crossovers abound from Juicy J showing up on “Dark Horse” to Miley teaming up with the Flaming Lips. It’s exciting to watch a genre often maligned as pandering to a mass audience have experimental edges creep into the mainstream conscious. In 2014 the most intriguing (and possibly strangest) development is Nabuma Rubberband.
With the release of their fourth album, Nabuma Rubberband, Little Dragon has completed a slow but striking transformation. They're still the playful synth-pop auteurs they established themselves as on their self-titled debut, showing as much penchant for irreverent humor as they do for catchy, elastic rhythms. But with each new album, the Swedish group seems to discover a larger font of power within their songwriting while simultaneously losing interest in sounding merely like a bunch of disaffected trip-hoppers.
To cut to the chase, Little Dragon, who transformed from underground hype-band to crossover contenders back in 2011, are primed to hit the big time in 2014. On this record, their drum-and-synths minimalism is more refined, the bass-lines more prominent, the hooks almost embarrassingly memorable. Ringleader Yukimi Nagano’s effortless vocal is staggering.
Less is more, or it certainly seems to be the case in 2014, with many of the year’s most anticipated albums shunning huge production for a focus on minimalism and in turn, a message. From Lykke Li’s documentation of heartbreak via stark strings to Neneh Cherry’s Blank Project, each album was still able to make a mark - providing tracks that were equally as vital to each artist’s legacy - but with a focus on craft and vocals rather than sky-high production and producing an overly-obvious bang. For their fourth album, Little Dragon (who, like Li and Cherry, hail from Sweden) blend trip-hop beats with stripped-back takes on trance, to provide songs that are sweetly sung overly bitter bits of beats.
Yukimi Nagano's voice is a force of nature, but not in the way you might think. As the frontwoman for Sweden's Little Dragon, Nagano has a smoky, sultry R&B voice that is instantly recognizable. She's backed by a band that knows how to meld and shape minimalist electronica into the pop landscape, throwing in a good measure of classic soul. The problem with Little Dragon, however, is that they've never been quite as good on record as on their numerous guest spots on other people's songs—by the likes of Big Boi, DJ Shadow, SBTRKT, and most notably, Gorillaz, whom they opened for on the Plastic Beach tour.
With their third album, 2011’s ‘Ritual Union’, Little Dragon came close to cracking the UK Top 20. ‘Nabuma Rubberband’ continues the ice-cool Swedes’ quest for mainstream acceptance. The opening ‘Mirror’, co-written with Dave from De La Soul, sounds like something off Prince’s ‘Paisley Park’. ‘Pink Cloud’’s sultry ballad swells to a string-laden crescendo.
In theory, Gothenburg electro-pop act Little Dragon can construct a massive pop song. The tools have always been there, in their infectious combination of electronic, dance and R&B, and in lead singer Yukimi Nagano's velvety smooth voice as displayed on previous albums. Given the attention and success that 2011's Ritual Union earned, it seemed that producing a bright and sleek record was the obvious route, but Little Dragon redirected themselves.Nabuma Rubberband, Little Dragon's fourth album, ditches light-footed agility for deep-rooted melancholy.
Yukimi Nagano sums up her approach to Little Dragon’s fourth LP, Nabuma Rubberband, in a R&B-flavored sound bite at the end of the record. “Let go of everything I know,” she sings over a booming, slow-rolling bounce on “Let Go”. Speaking to Rolling Stone late last year, the Swedish-Japanese vocalist explained that, for this record, the Gothenburg-based band started with nothing—no ideas, no vision, no plan.
Despite forming in the mid-90s, it took until earlier this decade for Gothenburg’s Little Dragon to properly break through. When they did, courtesy of the single Ritual Union and the accompanying album of the same name, it was difficult to believe they’d been kept a secret for so long. Ritual Union had a good hook, an insistent beat and a bunch of weird noises – what was there not to love? Nabuma Rubberband, Little Dragon’s follow-up record and their fourth overall, shows a band comfortable in their own skin who aren’t too concerned about writing three-minute singles to sell to advertising companies.
For the last few years, Little Dragon have quietly graduated to the status of ‘the next most likely to succeed’. It’s not just been the quality of their three albums (and their fourth, Ritual Union, was one of the best albums of 2012), but the frequency that they showed up elsewhere too. Guest spots with the prestigious likes of Gorillaz, SBTRKT and TV On The Radio‘s Dave Sitek only confirmed their burgeoning reputation.
Fewer beats and more feeling – if you were to encapsulate the difference between the Gothenburg band's last album, the excellent Ritual Union, and their fourth, it would boil down to a gentle retreat from the dancefloor in favour of textured atmospherics, both in the (excellent) playing and production and in Yukimi Nagano's silken singing. Operating on the cusp of the electronic pop mainstream, Little Dragon are musician's musicians, having previously collaborated with a panoply of talents (Gorillaz, SBTRKT), and this is another fine entry into their parallel universe. It's not the break-out record that they might have gone for, though.
In 2007, Little Dragon released their jazzy, soul-drenched, self-titled debut. At the end of the record’s introductory piano piece, “Twice”, lead vocalist Yukimi Nagano sighs, “One mirror holding us dearer now.” The record continues with lyrical imagery encompassing curiosity, surprise, love, and some weather-specific emotions. Seven years later, on the quartet’s Nabuma Rubberband, Nagano, in her now iconic, smooth soul voice, oozes out in reverberation, “You’re gonna make me put my fist through this mirror” on opener “Mirror”.
For a wallow in obsessive love, it’s hard to top “Your Love Is Killing Me” on Sharon Van Etten’s fourth album, “Are We There” (Jagjaguwar). Its opening drumbeat echoes from deep down or far away; organ chords suggest hymnlike devotion, and a lone guitar note only illuminates the ….
Midway through Little Dragon’s deliriously good fourth record arrives “Paris,” an early-Prince inspired electro-pop revelation. The blissful confection accentuates the Swedish band’s diversity and savvy as it’s nestled amid 11 other songs that further deepen the band’s sound while revealing dimensions only hinted at previously. The group, led by vocalist Yukimi Nagano, spends a good portion of the album slowing the beat down to explore more sensuous grooves.
opinion bySAMUEL TOLZMANN < @scatlint > That Little Dragon’s commercial successes have come from collaborations – with Gorillaz, Big Boi, SBTRKT, and network television – speaks volumes about their music. The Swedish quartet is, first and foremost, an extremely stylish band. They flaunt a thoroughly studied syllabus of influences impressive in its breadth (even if Stereolab and Broadcast hit all these points already), encompassing the tasteful and the kitschy with an omnivorous concern for appearances – trip-hop, lounge jazz, R&B, and 1980s synthpop are their regular ingredients, and their standard demeanor is “cool.” It’s all exceptionally curated, very mannered and attractive.