Ritual Union: Album Review

Returning for their third studio outing are the engaging Gothenburg quartet Little Dragon, who have probably had their most productive year to date.  Following two brilliant collaborations last year on Empire Ants with Gorillaz on Plastic Beach, and with Maximum Balloon’s If You Return, they also featured this year, prior to the release of Ritual Union, on SBTRKT’s electro dub-step number Wildfire, which provided a perfect amount of desire and attention for more Little Dragon and lead singer Yukimi Nagano.

Nagano’s vocal styles have become signature since the release of their debut album.  That delightful combination of husky and delicate soulful tones shines through once again on Ritual Union. The title-track is a fantastic electro-dance combination to open the album with.  It features that brilliant voice, which catches throughout; captivating lyrics such as: ‘Love’s sinking in the sand/Petals falling on demand/My feet are running like the wind/I’m sorry boy- that we sinned’ and neat little hooks on the keyboard which all set the tone for the rest of the album in the mixture of often rapid percussion, hard use of the synth and the contrasting soft lyrics and vocals from Nagano.  Little Man is both frantic and calming to listen to, and would deservedly feature in night-clubs around Europe, or more likely has been placed in the ‘to remix’ pile by your Jamie xx’s out there.

Crystalfilm is wonderfully calming and seductive, while one of the certain highlights on the album Nightlight, is pulsating and almost tribal.  Shuffle A Dream is euphoric and dynamic, while the brilliant Summertearz is dark and lamenting.  Please Turn is detailed and multi-layered, while Brush the Heat is a minimal, sparse experimental number.  This constant weaving between styles of songs makes their third album a treat to listen to.  The album also proves a desire to experiment with more mainstream electro-poppy numbers.   Without the collaborations mentioned above, songs such as Shuffle A Dream potentially may stand out as bland or a non-descript attempt to step-up one’s fanbase. Yet the proof that Little Dragon can go more commercial if called upon, makes this a fantastic song, with a superb opening synth chime, followed by Nagano’s melodic vocals jumping along to a most likeable rhythm.

The second album, Machine Dreams is a far cry from the mightily impressive debut Little Dragon, the former however, reminding me of Crash Bandicoot style music (which is definitely a good thing), and despite the variety and quality of the songs on Ritual Union, it does demonstrate a lack of progression musically. At times, the album feels like a direct combination of their previous two LPs, indicating a lack of development.  In one of the harshest industries to be in, variety or a lack thereof can be telling as to a band’s success.  At the same time, Little Dragon demonstrates a love for their small legion of fans by improving a well-tried and tested sound, which may prove to be the ultimate success.  The more commercial numbers, such as the aforementioned Shuffle a Dream could be the start of a more mainstream direction of the band, who may be ready to step up to the big leagues. Undoubtedly though, Little Dragon won’t forget their roots, and more importantly those who were there from the start.  All this is apparent on Ritual Union.

Despite Ritual Union certainly not being as nearly as impressive as their debut outing, there is something appealing about this slow-burning band who are consistently producing this level of imagination, detail and variety of captivating sounds.  In spite of the unhurried pace of a band finding their feet and their sound, there is no mediocrity or laziness with what gets produced.  There are certainly four or five tracks, which stand out from the rest on the album, but each song is given the same amount of dedication and detail as the rest.  Ritual Union is then, both an album for the old fan-base whom never tires of a most innovative and hard-working band, and those newbies who yearn for a sound which invites and imposes, entices and enthrals in a single beat.

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