The Swedish electro-soul quartet, Little Dragon, have released their third album Ritual Union with impeccable timing. Over the past year, the band, particularly frontwoman Yukimi Nagano, has garnered attention from high-profile artists that have led to collaborations and thus wildly rapid public exposure. Nagano offering her distinctive vocals to Raphael Saadiq and SBTRKT definitely propelled the group forward, but it was the bands work (and tour) with Gorillaz on Plastic Beach that really allowed them to reach a wider audience. With two more collaborations underway (one with Big Boi of Outkast and one with DJ Shadow), Little Dragon have set themselves up for groundbreaking success.
Their self-titled debut album presented to us an unusual group of artists, creating a strangely compelling musical melting pot of R&B, jazz, electronic, pop, and even at times folksy sounds. On their sophomore album Machine Dream, they opted to ditch the low-key, jazzy drones in favor of more uptempo, synthy-pop beats. It seems they've attempted to combine the minimalism of the first album with the energy of the second for their latest album Ritual Union, but I'm not quite sure theyve accomplished just that.
The album opens with the title track boasting the quality of work we've been expecting of them. Intentionally ambiguous, yet distinctly exposing the universality of connectedness, Ritual Union attacks with the zest heard in their sophomore album, continually re-charging itself with each synth surge, and adequately lulled by Nagano's velvety vocals. Moving past the first track, the intent of the album gets a little muddled. The songs themselves don't do justice to the themes they're hoping to represent. Take, for instance, "Little Man". Exploring materialism and the hollow soul-ed wanderers of the earth is admirable and moving lyrically, but not well mirrored musically. It's not that each track doesn't have its moments—either the hooks are particularly catchy, or the lyrics are intriguingly poignant—but all of the elements that constitute a great song are either lacking or not aligned. For me, no track has been as evocative as "Twice", the song off of their debut album that made me love the band.
After wading through a somewhat disjointed album, the closing two tracks offer a saving grace. Standing as the longest track on the album, "When I Go Out" is smothered in layered robotic, auto-tuned vocals backed by tribal beats (sometimes interjected with mimicked sounds of the jungle) and eerie cries of strings. As per usual, it lays heavily on reverb leaving us to believe were in an echo chamber being serenaded by the hauntingly gorgeous, celestial howls of Nagano. The album closes with "Seconds", a simple, desperate love track. The electric pops surface images of dancing marionettes, determined to succumb to the pull of a string in hopes of making a love requited.
Though we were expecting a little more from our upcoming band, the brief moments of sonic richness sprinkled throughout the album prove their potential is not merely speculation. The seeds of great ideas, musical and otherwise, are present, but not being tended to properly. It is explicit, however, that they can produce something explosively brilliant if they allow their work to marinate and develop fully.