Little Dragon’s most recent album, 2011’s Ritual Union, marks the final appearance on this year’s project for the Swedish electropop band. But compared to its younger brethren Little Dragon (2007) and Machine Dreams (2009), Ritual Union is so tame and subtle in comparison, it almost seems an outright regression.
The theme of the album is spelled out on its cover, a collection of photos of the group’s various family members. The phrase “ritual union,” according to the band, is any of life’s relationships: romantic, family, band, work spouses, etc. The ironic thing about the cover is that many of those depicted on the image have divorced.
It’s ironic that despite employing the relationship motif front and center, Ritual Union fails to deliver any cohesion throughout its 11 tracks and 44 minutes. While their previous albums were each marked by a couple of jarring, shake-you-to-your-bones tracks (“Twice” and “No Love” on Little Dragon, “Looking Glass” and “Runabout” on Machine Dreams), even after listening to this album all day, I’m having some serious difficult making a connection to any of the songs on here, sans the opening title track. There just doesn’t seem to be anything “remarkable” about them, perhaps the reason I’m even having trouble describing what I don’t like. It’s more an overbearing feeling than it is a pinpointable error.
Which isn’t to say that the tunes here are “boring,” per se – they are nuanced, well choreographed, unassuming. Many of them are cheerful and cheeky, drawing heavily on vintage synths, electric drums and high BPM. Lead vocalist Yukimi Nagano’s signature voice is alternately husky and hush-quiet. But in the light of their previous work, Ritual Union fails to resonate with me as a listener the same way.
The group had been on a 2-year album release cycle, and 2013 is quickly waning. Unless a new record gets announced soon, we’re looking at next year or later. I’m hoping that works out in the band’s favor for next time, because their spacey, digital popscape is delightful. Ritual Union somehow fails to fire in the same way.
From Little Dragon’s most recent release, this is the title track, “Ritual Union” –
Standout tracks: “Little Man,” “Brush the Heat,” “Precious” and “Nightlight” all avoid the dreaded shoulder shrug.
Weakest track: I wanted to like “Crystalfilm” so badly – actually, that sentiment might extend to everything past track 1 here – but it just falls flat. “Seconds” doesn’t do anything for me either.
RIYL: Chillwave, synth pop, downtempo. Santigold, Toro y Moi, Phantogram.