Little Dragon – Ritual Union

written by: August 1, 2011
Release Date: July 25, 2011


Ritual Union continues along the same lines as 2009’s Machine Dreams. On that album, Little Dragon lost a lot of their initial appeal, a cool blend of R&B and jazz, exchanging it for an icy electro-pop sound. It wasn’t a bad release per se, but it is was a rather startling, even regressive, move for the band. Ritual Union seeks to remedy some of the shortcomings of Machine Dreams by reintegrating some of the R&B that made their self-titled debut so fresh.

The music stays along the same percussive sounds + ice-cold synth lines as Machine Dreams and vocalist Yukimi Nagano again provides the perfect foil, at times sexy, at times cool, but most importantly human. She is obviously the band’s greatest asset, breathing life into the pieces and keeping them from falling into average territory.

The title track opens things up with a perfect marriage of Nagano’s charismatic R&B vocals and meticulously composed music, a bit warmer too. This track would have made a perfect transitional piece from the group’s former sound.

While more of that excellent blend is most desirable, the tracks that follow simply provide great, danceable tunes, even if they stick mostly to new wave. And luckily they haven’t forsaken their R&B leanings in the vocal department. “Brush the Heat” features a beat that doesn’t sound too distant from Autechre (minus the glitch) and Nagano commands without having to raise her voice. “Shuffle a Dream” is undeniably catchy. Its ’80s synth throwdown with Nagano’s excellent vocals are unstoppable.

The album gets a little saggy in the middle. The tracks aren’t necessarily weaker than the others, they just sound a lot like what’s already been heard up to that point. However, the band pulls out a couple excellent numbers toward the end with the pulsing “Summertearz” (is the z instead of s thing coming back?) and “Seconds,” featuring pleasantly hushed vocals and delicate accompaniments, is a nice way to end things.

It’s really a shame Little Dragon didn’t catch as much attention with their debut. It was deep, funky and ultimately peerless. Readers are all strongly encouraged to seek out this album. While many have discovered it since their breakout, the somewhat delayed response may have affected the direction they took for these subsequent releases. In their defense, the direction the band has taken will likely garner them a larger audience in today’s indie scene.

Having gained some extra attention thanks to their collaboration with Damon Albarn on Gorillaz’ excellent “Empire Ants” track from last year’s Plastic Beach (as well as others), Little Dragon’s latest, Ritual Union provides a chance to lock up a lot of new fans. For now, Ritual Union is one of the better electro-pop albums to come out this year, but we’ll see if anyone remembers it a few months from now.

Little Dragon – Ritual Union Tracklist:

  1. “Ritual Union”
  2. “Little Man”
  3. “Brush The Heat”
  4. “Shuffle A Dream”
  5. “Please Turn”
  6. “Crystalfilm”
  7. “Precious”
  8. “Nightlight”
  9. “Summertearz”
  10. “When I Go Out”
  11. “Seconds”