Release Date: Jul 25, 2011
Record label: Peacefrog
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Club/Dance
2011 is shaping up as the year of abstract R&B: the Weeknd, James Blake and now the latest by this three-man, one-woman Swedish crew, who count Big Boi, Damon Albarn, Raphael Saadiq and TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek among their fans and collaborators. Their third set hits a sweet spot between the futuristic soul of their debut and the synth pop of 2009's Machine Dreams. "Brush the Heat" sounds like Sheila E.
Sweden’s Little Dragon mastered the slow burn on Machine Dreams and attracted hotshot fans like DJ Shadow and Damon Albarn. No wonder their sonic step bounces on this third joint, especially in the danceable digifunk of “Little Man,” “Nightlight,” “Brush the Heat” and the love-shy vibe of the title track. Though captivating siren Yukimi Nagano needs to turn it loose…watch out once she does.
Diverse post-Machine Dreams collaborations with Gorillaz, David Sitek/Maximum Balloon, Raphael Saadiq, and SBTRKT made Ritual Union the most anticipated Little Dragon album yet. Perhaps coincidentally, it represents a fusion and refinement of the group’s first two albums. Much of it crosses Little Dragon's lithe, alien R&B with Machine Dreams' straightforward, rubbery new wave.
Beyond the obvious semantic connections, it’s appropriate that Little Dragon’s Ritual Union‘s cover is a gridded assortment of decades-old wedding portraits. The Swedish electronic-pop quartet boasts a sound best described as a collage of timeworn genres, loosely blending clean synth-pop, lounging jazz, ‘90s-era R&B, and flourishes of tropicalia into a highly digestible synthesis of textured, percussive energy. Establishing much of their funky, catchy credentials on 2009’s Machine Dreams, Little Dragon doesn’t break much new ground on their third album, but that’s beside the point.
Swedish quartet Little Dragon spent 10 years playing together before they got around to releasing even a single. They're now on their third album, but that history of self-containment still seems to colour their music. They can sound aloof, as on the title track, with its keyboards that sound like glittering icicles. Or they can sound combative: the bass melody running through Please Turn buzzes oppressively, while top of the mix in Brush the Heat is a high-pitched whine that bores into your ears.
Little Dragon play soul music in constant search of a soul. The most rewarding part of listening to them, and (more specifically) their latest, and third, LP Ritual Union, is watching them continually discover it in myriad ways. Ostensibly, this is dream pop from Sweden--which is hardly a development considered particularly noteworthy. Little Dragon, though, most effectively present such a vibrant context for their theatrics while creating a base atmosphere that is both sonically rich, and emotionally honest.
In her life, [a]Geri Halliwell[/a] has given Western culture about three-and-a-half decent [a]Spice Girls[/a] songs and the invention of the word ‘schizophonic’. The latter feat has upped her usefulness to the human race fifty-fold as we now have a word that can accurately describe Swedish collective [a]Little Dragon[/a]’s third record. It’s a conflicted, confusing album that’s as infuriating as it is intermittently enchanting.
Sweden's Little Dragon are a band blessed with a distinct and immediately alluring style. Their rhythms are dry and metronomic; their synthesizers either provide a distant ambiance or seem to glow like neon lights that flicker in time with the beat. Frontwoman Yukimi Nagano's phrasing touches on conventions of modern-- particularly British-- iterations of R&B, but errs on the side of aloof understatement.
I don’t think I like electronica. The emphasis in that statement should be on the word think. Because while I don’t think I like it, in actuality, I do. I love The Knife, I obviously enjoyed Architecture in Helsinki’s new album and I find myself listening to Hot Chip alone late at night more than I’d like to admit.
In music, there are few more harmonious marriages than that of female vocals and crisp electronic beats. While most genres seem to be dominated by male vocalists, electronic music has proven itself to be far more accepting: Björk, The Knife and Portishead are just a few examples of female-led mainstays of the genre. Little Dragon have just about staked their claim as one of the better acts in their field, but Ritual Union won’t necessarily live up to the expectations of those who enjoyed their first two outings.
If perhaps you received Little Dragon's last album with the stony indifference of a distant, emotionally crippled father, then apparently you're as good as picking a fight with half the music-making western world. Since 2009's Machine Dreams, a dizzying array of luminaries have been reduced to crotch-sniffing sycophants by the Gothenburgian electro-popsters. There have been collaborations with trend-spotting magpies Damon Alburn and David Sitek, an inspired turn with SBTRKT, they've won favour with both The Roots and Rafael Sadiiq and in the coming months they're penciled in for studio-time with DJ Shadow and Big Boi, not to mention Kurt Cobain, God, the Go Compare guy and Wolverine.
The triumphant notes that open Little Dragon‘s Ritual Union are really sort of misleading, all things considered. They come out of the gate with what could possibly be their strongest song to date–the title track to this album, incidentally. “Ritual Union” is all kinds of catchy, with Yukimi Nagano’s vocals sounding distinguished and solidified over a perfectly balanced sea of down-tempo bliss.
Although there never seems to be enough diversity in the realm of electronic music, upon further review there is a massive amount of genres, styles and sounds to get involved in. Throughout the years electronic music has seen its fair share of umbrellas where many other genres and sub-genres are formed; while many bands and artists continue to drive towards more free-form expression and less tight and concise parameters. Little Dragon has definitely benefitted from being able to fashion tight-knit chemistry that purely leads to terrific results.
“Traffic slow/Lights a haze/And all the smog/I’m in a daze,” sings Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano on “Brush The Heat,” conveniently summing up a vital component of the band’s haze-inducing new album in one succinct line. And yet, the Swedish electro-soul quartet does not lend itself to being defined so simply, and its third album is marked by contrast—one that is perhaps best described not by a lyric in a song but by the genre name itself: On Ritual Union, electronica and soul are merged and juxtaposed in every conceivable way. When the album opens with rapid drumming on the title track, it presents so even a surface with the barebones stick pattern that anything could follow—and it does.
Album three finds the Swedish electo-indie quartet rightfully breaking the mainstream. Reef Younis 2011 It’s been a stellar year for Little Dragon, and it seems the torch paper of wider acceptance has truly been lit. Collaborations with Gorillaz and David Sitek, celebrity fans in Big Boi and ?uestlove, and a burgeoning broadsheet love-in: three is definitely proving to be the magic number as the Sweden-based four-piece ready their third LP.