Review: Little Dragon – Ritual Union

Ritual Union comes off of a year of serial success for Gothenburg synthpop quartet Little Dragon: first came the collaboration with Damon Albarn on last year’s Gorillaz LP Plastic Beach, then contributions to TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek’s solo Maximum Balloon release, and most recently a feature on SBTRKT’s eponymous breakthrough debut. It is fitting then, that this curious moment of ubiquity should be topped off with Little Dragon’s third LP, released this July. Backed by warm production and irresistible electronics, and topped by the soulful register of lead singer Yukimi Nagano, Little Dragon is certainly an outfit to be reckoned with. Their first two albums matched pitch-perfect instrumentation to irresistible R&B-influenced songwriting, and Ritual Union is equally masterful in this regard. ‘Brush The Heat’ is the perfect example of this combination, moodily pairing Nagano’s huskier tones with a tight snare, high-hat, and thumping synth groove.

If, then, there is a shift at all between Ritual Union and 2009’s Machine Dreams, it is in the atmosphere. The latter, true to its name, was jerky and often mechanistic; Ritual Union, instead is smooth and soulful, and all the more seductive as a result. Where Machine Dreams was flirty, Ritual Union is unabashedly sexual. The former hinted, the latter is explicit. There is no better voice for such an ambience than Nagano’s – perfectly mixed into the instrumentation – and her lyricism is equally suggestive. The album artwork would suggest that title track ‘Ritual Union’ refers to marriage, but the lyrics, with their allusions to sin and transgression, certainly hint at something else altogether. These double entendres are frequent in Ritual Union, complementing the production in building up the smouldering mood. Standout track ‘Precious’, a heady concoction of swirling synths, driving rhythm, and Nagano’s beckons – “precious, I can’t hold back” – is certainly a case-in-point. Ritual Union, then, is a welcome direction for Little Dragon, and one that will excite new and old devotees alike.