Little Dragon – Ritual Union

With the exception of The Knife, Little Dragon have always seemed like the wallflowers of Scandinavian music. The perennial outsiders, happy to do their own thing while quietly, being responsible for some of the most ‘stop what you’re doing and listen’ music of the last few years, their tracks would be stumbled upon, a lovely little unexpected treat. With Ritual Union they may be set to explode in to the wider consciousness.

Ritual Union is the ‘poppiest’ record Little Dragon have released, which isn’t to say they’ve jettisoned the idiosyncrasies and eccentric touches that make them so wonderfully intriguing. The best bands evolve, and the trajectory from the eponymousdebut to this point has seen them constantly refine their sound, becoming more and more like themselves. Streamlined and polished while also retaining their magpie likeability to incorporate new facets.

The slightly melancholic nostalgia that permeates previous albums remains, as doesthe production with a ‘hand-made’ feel, a little rough around the edges, soulful. The titletrack sets the tone, slightly woozy and up tempo, while Shuffle a Dream evokes a strong Jean-Michel Jarre-vibe, although that probably says more about my upbringing than anything else.

This is a band who can consistently turn out great songs, whether they are turning their hand to the shimmering future soul of Little Man, or the sinister sounding Crystal Film,with its just-out-of-reach vocals sample bubbling up from below. Where once the sheer range and variety of styles, tones and shades of light and dark had a magpie-like feel to it over the course of three albums Little Dragon have demonstrated an ability to make each sound their own.

The tempo of the album goes through a number of changes, and whilst this mightmake it sound like tiring listen, each successive track pitches up or down a gear in justthe right way. The rhythm section (Erik Bodin on drums and Fredrik Källgren Wallinon bass) underpins everything excellently, basslines jog, or run or stomp perfectlyfitting the mood, while Håkan Wirenstrand’s keys provide lovely electronic flourishes,wrapping everything…

Lyrically and vocally there are definite comparisons between singer Yukimi Naganoand fellow Swede Lykke Li, with the bruised but still defiant tenor, and the mournfullybeautiful subject matter of the songs. Little Dragon’s forte is their ability to arrangetracks in a way that plays to their strengths, sometimes the vocals are brought to thefore, at others the keys take the lead, or everything recedes but the driving rhythmsection.

Much has been made of collaborations with David Sitek, Gorillaz and SBTRKT, butperhaps these should be seen as evidence of the music industry finally catching up withwhat we’ve known all along, scrabbling to work with a band on the cusp of great things.

Little Dragon will play at gig at Rough Trade East on 25 November 2011

This post originally appeared on The What Where When on 25 July 2011

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