Listen to the beats on the third release by Little Dragon, Ritual Union, and you are lead to believe this is a band on the rise. Compare this album to their predecessors, and their crossing over to the mainstream is inevitable. One could argue they are already there after working with David Sitek, Raphael Saadiq, Gorillaz and having a song featured on Grey’s Anatomy.
All of this success hinges on what actions front woman Yukimi Nagano takes from here. A band has several moving parts, voices and visions, but as Nagano goes, so does Little Dragon. She has bucket-loads of charisma and supplies crisp yet gossamer vocals to her friends’ and band mates’ tracks. The tracks were indeed constructed for her voice alone. It would be difficult for anyone else to lend their vocals to this music.
Erik Bodin (drums), Fredrik Källgren Wallin (bass), and Rashik Aryal (keyboards) deliver an array of electronic sounds in their music. Their choice to blend Japanese pop with 80s synthesizer in “Ritual Union” and “Shuffle A Dream” make for a catchy, one-of-a-kind sound unrivaled by other mainstream electronic acts. Most tracks are light, but a few have a good dance feel to them. “Precious” drops a Cassettes Won’t Listen-like beat and then shifts into a tight house beat I could see played in both dance clubs and at The Gap.
The most notable tracks are the title track, “Ritual Union,” “Precious,” and “Please Turn.” Each offer upbeat tempos and tones and deliver sharp hooks. Unfortunately the band cannot deliver on a steady basis. There is a sharp drop-off in energy after “Please Turn” and it takes several tracks for the album to recover and recapture my attention. The entire album is full of tasteful, thought-out electronic music, but it feels like a compromise. Instead of delivering a sharp punch, the band seems to toe the line of the gentle tones that have gotten them this far.
The album marks growth for the Swedish quartet, but I cannot help but feel like they are still trying to play it safe. It is commendable if they are trying to gradually cultivate an audience; to grow a fan base in the mainstream without compromising their sound. However, the cynic in me sees Nagano being made for the spotlight and either being plucked from the band or trying to break out on her own with the other three members left holding the check.
Ritual Union offers us the promise for what Little Dragon has to offer. There are a few solid tracks, but the album is marred by inconsistency. They are taking a step in the right direction; I just hope there are future releases for the band to realize their potential.