Friday, July 29, 2011

Little Dragon: Ritual Union

     If you'll care to remember back to my review of this band's debut album, you'll see that I enjoyed it immensely. I'm not going to go into the same amount of detail regarding these guy's background, but you'll find they've had a lot of publicity of late. Vocalist Yukimi Nagano collaborated with David Sitek (of TV on the Radio) for his solo effort, and all four members helped on Gorillaz record 'Plastic Beach'. Once again however, Swedish pop sensation Little Dragon have been revealed as a band confident in their own ability. 'Ritual Union' is their third full-length effort, and has changed up for the second time. From 'Machine Dreams' sonic shift into a more accessible realm, and one that succeeded their anonymous debut brilliantly, 'Ritual Union' surprised me. I was half expecting Little Dragon to play off that second lp and grow bigger and simpler, a move that would have probably attracted a fair few fans. Their dropping from independent record label Peacefrog certainly suggested such a thing, but then what did they do? They had to come right around and sucker punch me with a pillow. Instead of turning up the gas, they lower the heat to an enticing simmer. This isn't an elaborate effort. It's a summer evening meal, lit by candles and the setting sun. It combines both the dark and thoughtful lyricism of 'Little Dragon' with the more rhythm focused sound displayed on 'Machine Dreams'.
     A few qualms then. For me, this feels less instantaneous when compared to previous releases. After a while I accepted this though, but in looking for a more sensual and brooding sound, I wanted some tracks to run for longer. 'When I Go Out' is an absolute beauty, running for six minutes like the soundtrack to a short film. Others, while not immediately 'short', feel a little cut off when you're listening through the whole affair without pause. That being said, I most definitely found that sensual element. Yukumi’s vocals draw you in and weave their way through every song, luring you into a sense of uninterrupted relaxation. Rather than drawing you to a sunny field though, you're led into a moody, smoke-filled part of town. Dark moments intersect the lighters ones here, but it works. They flow together really well, and in the end, I honesty forgot those little quibbles.
      Kicking things off with the title track, 'Ritual Union', a repeated groove lays out the structure for the rest of the album. Through the backbone of every song here runs a simple sonic foundation, upon which melodies and sounds are layered. Not wanting to become repetitive however, these initially straight lines swirl and curl and progress along with the music. It's truly fascinating to listen to. A tinkling keyboard leads into the second number 'Little Man'. A quirky upbeat rhythm is highlighted by short catchy notes in a manner almost chiptune in its delivery. Once again, the vocals aren't forced, but carry a level of calm and subtle feeling that's hard not to love. The intriguing little 'la la la's of 'Brush The Heat' flit above a high pitched whine which deepens to introduce 'Shuffle A Dream'. One of the more accessible and catchy choruses on the album, the layered vocals work to add variety. 'Please Turn' marks the half way mark with it's startling booming notes and oppressive buzzes, but really, every song here is worthy of note.
     Other outstanding sections to 'Ritual Union' include 'Precious' and its organic drums. Said glitchy drum beat is jumped upon by higher vocals that somehow manage to feel decidedly darker. Effects-wide, whizzing noises and vibrating drones make this one of the more experimental tracks, in my eyes at least. 'Summertearz' feels barren, but the windy quietness at the beginning is soon infiltrated by playful humming and a simple drum pattern. Harmonious vocals come across as tribal as well, but this is played off extremely easily, and your ears have no trouble wandering around the noises. The finisher, 'Seconds' wallows in the swamp of nostalgia, which is an element attributed heavily to the reverb on the singing. The backing track is a quieter one, and the vocals float above it's repeated rhythm. It's a peaceful dream after a day filled with wondrous sights and sounds. Although not the strongest and boldest album I was expecting, this effort works just as well. Instead of progressing off the second record, Little Dragon tone things back down. This is relaxing electronic pop at its very best, in an album I whole-heartily recommend.

'Shuffle A Dream'