Little Dragon - "Ritual Union"
Sweden’s Little Dragon make minimalistic, R&B-infused electronic music so skeletal that at times it seems the songs are in danger of being whisked off your iPod by a passing breeze. The fewer sonic elements there are in a song, the more they have to individually deliver. When they do, the result can be pure and magical. But there’s a danger in keeping things so simple. A mediocre song cannot rely on a lush string melody or interesting electronic effects to rescue it. There’s no place to hide. Just as being photographed naked requires a Playboy body, nude music requires melodies that are more than just passable – they need to stun.
There are few stunners on Little Dragon’s occasionally appealing but mostly soporific third LP Ritual Union. The album’s playful first-third hints at what Ritual Union could have been. The title-track morphs from its surf-rock intro into a sinewy and sexy anthem about, of all things, matrimony. Vocalist Yukimi Nagano’s frigid delivery is largely responsible for the relative success and failure of these songs, since there's little else to distract from it. When she doubles the synth on “Little Man,” her detachment underscores the kiss-off of her lyric. Consequently, the song is a knockout. “Shuffle a Dream” thumps and stammers with a chorus worthy of Beyoncé. Nagano is most emotive on “Please Turn,” her vocals a tonic to the song’s twitchiness.
Things unravel from there. Either Little Dragon were unconcerned with hooks, or they simply ran out of good ones. The songs rely more and more on grooves and atmospherics; by the time you reach “Seconds” it feels like years have passed. Little Dragon have made an album that, absent copious amounts of Ritalin, often leads to more interesting tangents, like the dust accumulating on your bookshelves and the cars passing outside you window. Ritual Union is a boon for a very specific subset of the population: the curators of semi-hip retail chains who provide shoppers with quirky and unobtrusive soundtracks to enjoy while browsing their wares. Be sure to check-out Ritual Union the next time you’re at Urban Outfitters.