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I’ve always found Little Dragon an incredibly hard group to write about. All the terms that you feel obliged to use to describe them (electronic soul, futuristic R&B, etc., etc.) end up tarnishing their music rather than embellishing it. So let’s begin with the facts: they’re from Sweden, this is their third album, they stole the show on the last Gorillaz album, everyone’s in love with the singer, Yukimi Nagano and they’re very, very good. Now comes the difficult part: the music.

So we know it’s good. Very, very good in fact, if you’re willing to take my word for it. That’s because they make the sort of music which makes the world a better place as soon as you put it on. If they were a book they’d be One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It’s written with great style, is deeply affecting and effuses a distinctly dreamlike quality. Or to be slightly more prosaic, they make beautiful, soulful songs loosely based around synths, beats and dreamy vocals. Some are funky, some are sad, some are simply stunning. See? I told you it’s hard to describe.

If you’re already familiar with the band, you’ll know what I mean when I say that Ritual Union is a natural progression from the album that preceded it, Machine Dreams. Machine Dreams in turn marked a huge leap from their self-titled debut, a stunning, but scattergun album that was just a bit too eclectic for its own good. However, once you got used to the fact that no two tracks sounded the same, it was inevitable that you’d fall in love with its fragile beauty. But even so, little could have prepared you for the extreme left turn they took on Machine Dreams, where the synths came in and made like they were Prince on a very good day at the office. And it’s this magic that they’ve taken as the starting point for Ritual Union.

Which isn’t to say they’re standing still on Ritual Union, far from it. There’s still room for the eclecticism of their debut in their new direction with excursions into dubstep on “When I Go Out” and the groove led direction of “Brush The Heat.” The latter is a particularly neat metaphor for the album as whole: it’s hot, but it only occasionally flirts with all-out dance floor mayhem (like on the irresistible title track), preferring to weave its web more subtly, as with the sparse arrangements of “Crystalfilm.

What unites the album is, as ever, Yukumi’s ethereal voice. There’s a dreamlike, yearning quality to her vocals that’s further enhanced by the ambiguity of her lyrics. Even at her most direct, such as on “Please Turn,” it’s not entirely clear what she’s trying to communicate, but the emotion her voice conveys cuts straight to the bone. It grants Little Dragon the freedom to create such sparse arrangements and is largely the reason why they’re so devastatingly effective on every song.

Well, almost every song. “When I Go Out” is an exercise in trying something new that doesn’t quite work out, while “Precious” is a groove that doesn’t really go anywhere. So Ritual Union may not be a perfect album, but it is charming, intriguing and rewarding enough to ensure that you’ll overlook any flaws and keep coming back to give it another spin. And that’s something very special indeed.

-Will Georgi

Comments

  • MP

    & to think Mellowhype got a better review than this album…………..LOL!!!!

  • bentagain

    Precious is a groove that doesn’t go anywhere…???…you might need to listen again homie. Anyway, this record gets at least a spin a day and I can’t wait to see them perform more of the new songs live. They kind of remind of The Roots in that way, what they do live on stage is so hard to capture on an album, you have to see them live

  • http://funkatopia.com/ Mr. C

    I would agree that this album is as good as you’ve said and as I also posted on our site here; http://funkatopia.com/funk-music-reviews/little-dragon-ritual-union/. The problem is getting others to enjoy it as equally as I do. I’ve played the disc for 3 people so far, all of which are avid music listeners that listen to many styles and none of them like it. The best review I could get from the 3 was “it’s ok.”. Little Dragon is definitely an acquired taste, but Yukimi is the glue that holds everything together. Very simply put, I can’t imagine the album achieving the success it has without her. It’s DJ gold, but for some reason, it’s a hard sell. Not for me obviously (or yourself), but I don’t think the general populace is ready for this album. Little Dragon is ahead of their time and there’s always the negative that comes with that accomplishment.

  • http://www.bluebaboon.nl Micha Posthumus

    I liked the single Ritual Union very much. Looking forward to listening to the entire album.

    Thnx for the review!

  • GKnow

    Co-sign to what Will and Mr. C. are saying here. I have to admit, it took me a minute to ‘get’ Little Dragon at first. Latched onto Recommendation and Constant Surprises almost immediately, but can’t say I ‘got’ them. Once I sat down and made a mix (remember those?) for my car from all three albums, it started falling into place. The progression from the debut to Ritual Union is actually so smooth that it’s stunning. I got a friend–who is a total pop head-to listen to the RU title track, and she was so hooked she wanted the entire catalogue. Another friend whose ear is closer to mine dug Constant Surprises but couldn’t quite put his finger on them. I think they are just a band that doesn’t babyfeed you and, like the Roots actually, once the audience is ready for them, it’ll wonder what took so long.