Little Dragon – Ritual Union | Album Review

Swedish electronic and synth-pop band Little Dragon return with their third studio album Ritual Union. Having won us over on their 2007 self-titled debut album with their adept left-field interpretation of contemporary American R&B and Soul music and with such beautiful songs as “Constant Surprises” and “Twice,” Yukimi Nagano and her Little Dragon quartet returned in 2009 with Machine Dreams. A further move to the left and away from the R&B and Soul roots of their debut album, Machine Dreams delved into more experimental, rich and luscious sounding Electro-Pop domain and boasted such exceptional records as “Fortune,” Thunder Love” and my personal favourite Little Dragon song, “Blinking Pigs”. Two years on and it seems the band have kept their fans waiting for long enough – but has our two year wait been well worth it?

The album’s title track and opener is quite the captivating start to this 11-track album. Kicking off with [and largely backed by] tingling guitar chords, snare sounds, sharp drum kicks and bouts of electro-goodness, “Ritual Union” provides the ample backdrop for Yukimi’s hauntingly ethereal vocals and compelling lyrics. Add the interjecting dreamy instrumentation and keyboard licks that are sprinkled all over the song and that lush synth-solo in the middle of “Ritual Union,” setting up the listener rather nicely for a thoroughly enjoyable listen to come.

“Brush the Heat” is immediately captivating. Once it begins and those glorious backing harmonies hit you after about five seconds, there’s really no turning back. The thumping drum patterns set in soon after, accompanied by a synth-line that roams throughout underneath the layers but also bursts into life at the forefront every now and again. Then Yukimi’s vocals – with a slightly darker and subdued tone than the album’s opener but equally compelling – kick in, taking centre stage with the musical backdrop (the drum patterns have dropped down a notch seemingly to match Yukimi’s subdued tone but the backing harmonies are still just as glorious) obliging to exquisitely wrap itself around Yukimi’s vocals to wonderful effects.

Another stand-out song on the album, “Shuffle A Dream” falls easily into an Electro-Pop box in the traditional sense of the subgenre with danceable, thumping electronic synth chords and basslines with glitchy, synthesized instrumental solos as a bed for Yukimi’s inviting vocals. The subtle and delicate manner in which “Shuffle A Dream” slides into “Please Turn” (you will not notice it’s a new song on some listens) is rather exquisite in itself. Albeit not as good “Shuffle A Dream,” the pleasant “Please Turn” is also backed by a thumping bass line but also accompanied by bold drum kicks and glitchy and fast-paced synth chords and progressions.

“Precious” is certainly worthy of mention just for how immense it sounds. From the commanding drum-led introduction to the electronic bass line and drum patterns that form the musical milieu of the record to Yukimi’s arresting vocals (high-pitched, then low-pitched, then high again) to the lush body-moving chord and synth progressions backed by head-bopping drum kicks and interjecting quick-fire drum machine goodness that take over the second half of the record, this is pure electronic goodness from start to finish.

Nightlight” is the official first single from the Ritual Union album (“Ritual Union” is the second and latest single) and you can immediately see why. This is vintage Little Dragon while still remaining largely similar in temperament to mainstream Pop music. Starting off with a bold and pounding drum break before switching into full Pop mode with lush keyboard chords, ethereal synths and a catchy drum pattern, this song captures much of the essence of Little Dragon as a quartet.

“Summertearz” and “When I Go Out” are easily two of my favourite songs on the album and I love how both songs entwine seamlessly. The instrumentation on “Summertearz” is so catchy and the way in which Yukimi weaves her vocals and backing harmonies around this record is so captivating that it’s very hard and near-on impossible not to be interested. Whereas “When I Go Out” sets a darker tone with echoey lingering vocals from Yukimi, a fast-paced and almost minimal-sounding drum pattern and the amazingly trippy instrumentation led by glorious synths, excellent variations of that existing fast-paced drum pattern and big cinematic musical backdrops that come in just over the two minute mark.

I should spend at least a few words to mention the songwriting and lyrical dexterity on this album, of which “Crystalfilm” and “11 Seconds” are such ample examples. Much has been said about Little Dragon’s musical abilities and Yukimi’s excellent vocal presence and gift and it could be so easy to overlook how good the writing on this record is – but only at our own peril. You definitely have to listen attentively on much of this album because you’d be lost in the excellent music otherwise but you’ll be better for it if you do pay attention to the words.

I also especially love the overall cohesiveness of this record from track one to 11; all tracks seamlessly joined together, weaving in and out of each other so effortlessly that sometimes it feels like you’re listening to one singular, glorious Little Dragon music session. No sooner than you’ve pressed play on the first song “Ritual Union” and you’re zoning out to the amazing songs, music and vocals on the album do you realise that it’s already back at the beginning song already.

Thoroughly enjoyable and compelling with immense repeat play value.

Little Dragon – Ritual Union
Released: July 25, 2011
Label: Peacefrog
Buy: Amazon UK / Amazon US / Rough Trade / HMV

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