Dots & Dashes reviews Little Dragon at Shepherd’s Bush Empire

Having winged their way to prominence with a Gorillaz collaboration by the name of Empire Ants, for Little Dragon to headline Shepherd’s Bush Empire feels like the completion of a full circle that’s seen them make tracks around the globe akin to the aforementioned insects imprinting faint trails on the slopes of vertiginous anthills. There are always touts out and about on the pavements that roll up to the Empire although tonight they’re crawling with pests ready and willing to buy, sell, and barter as they anxiously scuttle up to showtime.

For the Gothenburg quartet, a dribbed and drabbed Boiler Room session way back in July must be all but a warm and welcoming, if distant memory as they’ve subtly slithered up to a sold out show at this iconic, if insistently branded venue. Marking the end of a remarkable string of dates, it’s a conclusion that must once have felt like the loose and unfindable thread within a colossal ball of yarn. However finally, here we are, the grand finale (for the UK at least) and befitting this landmark show, Hâkan Wirenstrand has cultivated his hair into a quintessentially Swedish sweep of fringe and is joined by a fellow sorcerer of synth in Arild Werling, the righthand man directed by the bearded dub wizard’s every nonchalant flick of the figurative wand. Furthermore here to witness the show in its entirety, perched on the teetering precipice of Level 1 is Yukimi Nagano’s dad, later urged to move as rabidly and erratically as we during a gloriously obstreperous My Step. Glee visible from the gloop-sloshed floors below streams through his prescription goggles, and the sentiments are shared.

Little Dragon (and Nagano in particular), although now seemingly reaping the fruitful rewards of lending a vocal here or a mellifluous visualisation there, have managed to collaborate both deftly and successfully without ever cheapening their act. In an era almost dictated by special guest spots made anything but special due to their ubiquity and lack of idiosyncrasy it’s exhilarating, and Nagano’s clingy, muggy vocals have added great flavour and texture to the otherwise unremarkable in the past. That said she now seems more than ready to take centre-stage in order that she bask in the concentrated glow of every last spotlight, never again to be branded merely “that girl what sang on…”. Cheapening proceedings slightly is the somewhat unwelcome or at least unnecessary arrival of Gilles Peterson who swaggers out to sing a few praises as if a compère at a session in place of the fervidly anticipated show this indubitably is. He’s the turkey sat around the Christmas table, although he’s soon disposed of, stumbling from sight.

At one point a body clasped limpet-like to the barrier amongst the endless imitations of the “middle class boy” referenced in a rambunctious Little Man mouths desperately: “I’ve waited four years for this night!” Little Dragon are indisputably cultivating obsession, and tonight this becomes wondrously evident.

They slink out to minimal brouhaha with minimum bravado, minus Nagano, terrifyingly talented drummer Erik Bodin thudding a sampler and arousing opener Looking Glass before Ritual Union and Brush the Heat follow. It’s an accomplished, if perhaps all too calm and conservative an introduction, and feels a little like your fave film getting its long-awaited TV premiere, only for it to be shown on Channel 5 and barely seen through the barely open eyelids of a far-from-select few come the early hours. Hysterical wails greet Nagano when she eventually emerges and although her vox remain humid, inimitable, irreprochable, the atmosphere is at least a little indebted to the innately inane, inherently evil televised talent show broadcast some time around now. There’s a cleanliness to the band too tonight (a perk of not being holed up, literally or otherwise, in a boggy, windswept field geographically in the precise heart of hinterland of course) and also to their sound, and this comes across with crystalline purity during the tribalistic thrum of Summertearz, a mesmeric globule of throb and restrained crescendo.

One of Little Dragon’s infinite merits is that they’re composed of four wonderfully distinctive (almost to the point of Pokémon-like caricature) characters that comply with starkly differentiated roles and responsibilities, both sonically and visually. And while it would be all too easy for Nagano to entangle herself within the enticing web tonight spun musically, intermittently rendering herself ineffective and helpless, she frees herself to all sorts of liberality, remaining at the fore throughout as she swats illusory flies with shakers and jingling bells while simultaneously stomping spiritedly enough to shave the highest heels down to the sole. For it’s the intricate weave of rough ‘n’ ready R’n’B, dabs of dub, and warped electronica wonkily traced around vinyl melted over all manner of things shiny and simmering that makes the records quite so special. An intimate and proficiently efficient knit of sound, it’s one that’s snagged and unravelled a little in this elaborate expanse, sleazy serotonin booster Runabout elongated exasperatingly into a daydreamy, rather than dreamy lackadaisical lull. Similarly, an abrasive interlude reminiscent of the mind-numbing work of Fedde le Grande (synths blaring, strobes glaring) during Precious exacerbates rather than enhances the track. But these disheartening moments are few and far-between amidst an eve of highs. Indeed, even when they conscientiously “slow it down” (as on Crystalfilm) distant figures continue to jive in the upper echelons of the Empire.

If there’s only so many times witnessing Nagano thwacking nonexistent airborne snares and cymbals remains bearable, the number of times one can withstand the immaculate electro stylings of My Step and Feather is incalculable and if they’ve periodically leant a little towards the lacklustre up to this jolt in the setlist, by the time this particular brace is rapidly cannoned off we’re all acting like Mark Corrigan feigning the highest of wholly illegal ecstatic highs down in the dregs of the stalls. A monumental show for many reasons and although the Empire is a monument that’s tonight not quite smashed, in a fadedly decadent theatre of shrieks Little Dragon’s relevance tonight became as recognisable as it ever was. Source.

Hot Press review Little Dragon at the Button Factory

On the off chance that you fear dreamy Scandinavian trip pop, I’d say it’s about time you got all worked up about Gothenburg quintet Little Dragon, who, after a decade of relative obscurity, are about to become downright unavoidable.

As well as appearing on Gorillaz’ A Plastic Beach last year, the band are currently guesting on the new DJ Shadow record, on the rather lovely ‘Scale It Back’. Now that Little Dragon have officially reached Indie Darling status (just ask The Huffington Post…), there’s no escaping these visceral Swedes, even if you are planning to avoid every single Album Of The Year list published this month (recent LP Ritual Union will no doubt appear on many of them).
Little Dragon’s last Irish visit was just over a year ago, when they played to a crowd of around 300 people in Crawdaddy, but popularity has denied them a return to Harcourt St. This time around, the location is the 750-capacity Button Factory, which, when I arrive unfashionably early, is already positively heaving with bodies.

Squirming about in a white robe, singer and tambourine thruster elite Yukimi Nagano leads the on-stage commotion, which includes drums, bass, keyboards, synthesisers and a selection of futuristic-sounding bells and whistles. She then announces, through the medium of costume change, that it’s time to dance. Within the first few moments of the infectious ‘Ritual Union’, the venue is transformed into a discotheque, a perfect haven for club-hoppers and art pop nerds alike. Hard-hitting party track ‘My Step’ keeps shoulders bopping, and although another newbie, ‘Nightlight’ is far more experimental, it, too, has the desired effect on the crowd.

Between the Guetta-sized build-ups and quirky percussion solos, there are a couple of threadbare numbers, but either backdrop, light show or Nagano’s glow-in-the-dark fingernails always manage to hold our attention.

On record, the Little Dragon sound is sometimes hampered by that all-too-familiar Scandinavian frostiness, but tonight almost every tune feels warm and welcoming. Even ‘Twice’, the band’s major heartbreak moment from 2007, sounds friendly and intimate. It also proves that these five highly-skilled musicians could bluff their way through a performance in any genre, and that at least 750 mesmerised patrons are willing to follow them wherever they go. Source.

The Guardian review Little Dragon’s Ruby Lounge show in Manchester

From the back of a busy Ruby Lounge, you can just about see the iconic sight of a tambourine being held aloft on stage. Only when the songs subside, and it’s possible to peer through gaps in the crowd, is there much sight of elfin vocalist Yukimi Nagano. This Swedish band have not called themselves Little Dragon for no reason.

And yet, they emit the noise of a much larger, fire-breathing electronic beast; a collision between nervy electro-pop and walloping dance grooves, topped off with clattering percussion. When lasers fire over the crowd, the visual limitations are forgotten in favour of an invitation to lose yourself in music. It’s part-gig, part-club experience. Although Nagano has collaborated with DJ Shadow and Gorillaz, the 80-minute set primarily airs this year’s acclaimed third album, Ritual Union. The title track is the closest they come to pure pop, Swedish-Japanese-American Nagano’s nimble vocals dancing Björk-like around a minimal but memorable melody. The dreamy Brush the Heat (“I’m giving in to the rhythm of my feet”) is given an eerier, stark electronic treatment reminiscent of Daniel Miller’s synth pioneers the Normal. Elsewhere, songs are extended into percussive, cowbell-beating jams, given expectant pauses and then restarted, and sped up into such dizzying climaxes you fear they will spin out from the building. However, on recordings there is a sense that they haven’t decided whether to aim primarily for the dancefloor or the singles charts, and they seem to pull back from the precipice on stage, too. When Nagano says, “We’re going to take it down”, she ushers in a lull, where even the sub-bass competes with chatter. Thankfully, it doesn’t last; the spare, sensual pop groove of Precious restores the excitement, and up goes the tambourine again. Source.

Allston Pudding review a Little Dragon October performance

Despite this week’s intermittent rain and onslaught of midterms, I started it off right Monday night at Royale, where Little Dragon presented a stimulating performance. For a few hours, I forgot about my responsibilities and let the flashing lights and tantalizing vocals of Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano guide me into an electronic groove.

Opening for Little Dragon was Tycho, a San Francisco-based electronic group led by artist/producer Scott Hansen. Having been on my personal radar since high school, I read that Tycho performs with enthralling visuals to enhance their atmospheric sound …so needless to say, I was disappointed when that didn’t happen. Nonetheless, the group’s ambient music transports you into a dreamlike state of mind – I felt as though I was floating on a cloud as I listened to them play. 
Tycho got some heads bopping, but there definitely was some pent up energy that the crowd was ready to release as Little Dragon took the stage.

The first thing that caught my eye was lead singer Yukimi Nagano’s outfit. She rocked gold lamé leggings, clashing tribal print tank & skirt and silver sparkly oxfords. Her eclectic outfit is definitely reflective of Little Dragon’s eclectic music. Little Dragon presents a wide-ranging sound – they are sometimes thrown into the electronic genre, but they are nowhere near predictable. Little Dragon combines experimental electronics with soulful R&B and a taste of jazz to create a layered sound all their own.

The entire band presented a great dynamic, but it was Yukimi who really captivated the crowd. Rolling Stone said of Nagano’s NYC performance only a couple days before, “Nagano is less charismatic than instructional, a how-to on letting go, or just never needing to, like a Sesame Street moral come to life.” It’s true. Her performance is filled with this carefree passion that you can’t help but want to emulate. Nagano freely dances across the stage, letting her body movement reflect the sounds – moving seductively, twirling through beats and holding bold poses with limbs in the air.

The light show also intensified Little Dragon’s performance; it was precise and calculated. The lights emitted a warm, serene glow then they would flash big and bright with each crescendo, illuminating the entire venue. The psychedelic sounds of Little Dragon with a wild orchestration of lights created a more than favorable environment to dance the night away. Like Yukimi, the crowd danced carelessly from beginning to end.

Beyond the lights, Nagano’s vocal talent truly shined throughout the night – her voice is mesmerizing and sultry. Not to mention, the diversity of Little Dragon’s songs made for an engaging set. The band ended the night on a sweet, yet melancholy note with their hit “Twice,” winding the crowd down with a slow jam. A sentimental mood filled Royale as couples embraced and the set came to a close. Source.

“The Unassuming Little Dragon,” by the Easy Bay Express

There was a lot of love in the room at Mezzanine last weekend. Usually in a packed house, stranger jostling is standard practice, albeit mildly annoying. But Little Dragon excels at setting a mood, and it was easy to tell just by audience etiquette: Instead of a push, it was a polite tap on the shoulder; instead of being shoved aside, it was getting delicately steered in a particular direction.

Little Dragon, originally from Sweden but now embracing fame in the United States, played two sold-out shows at the 1,000-person capacity venue last weekend. There was no opening act, just a DJ, after which the group put on a marathon two-hour set. The band members probably could have played for four and folks would still have been into it.

Mezzanine seemed like the best venue for the electronic pop quartet, too. It’s more a club than a traditional concert venue — fitting because Little Dragon is more a dance experience than a traditional pop band. With bars on practically every wall and across two floors, it’s hard to walk into Mezzanine and not immediately feel a little saucy. That’s spot-on for Little Dragon’s vibe, too — if you take any hints from the band’s members, you know that all you have to do to enjoy yourself is to just relax and keep moving.

Granted, a lot of people didn’t dance. Maybe the place was just too crowded, or the multitude just a little too hesitant. The pit was mashed tightly together, the stairwells all but blocked, and most of the young concertgoers seemed transfixed rather than transformed. Toward the end, one young woman escaped to the back of the club where she set up her own one-woman dance party in front of coat check. It was that kind of stifled energy that Little Dragon seemed to be trying to tap into all night.

If you were just there to stand and watch, though, which it seems most people were, the performance was still spectacular. Frontwoman Yukimi Nagano was like an exotic, sequined Energizer bunny. She swayed almost continuously throughout the lengthy set, moving her arms in smooth, mystical sweeping gestures.

Nagano specializes in a sort of electro-raindance. In between her vocals, the beat pounds away. Percussion, both electronic and acoustic, is one of the driving forces behind Little Dragon’s music. In addition to a live drummer, each band member conducts all manner of beat-keeping, from drum pads to MIDI controllers, all down to the simple tambourine that Nagano wears slung around her elbow.

She came off as a sort of cheerleader for the reluctant indie-rockers, who are most comfortable with hands below the jaw line and torsos protected. She bobbed up and down with unself-conscious vivacity, doing her trademark moves that fans have come to adore. Her innocent, awkward dancing was appealing, making her seem more human, less diva.

Nagano occupied a large portion of the stage, wandering around when she wasn’t singing. She’d hop over to keyboardist Håkan Wirenstrand and doodle on his KAOS pad, inciting electronic signals. At the encore, she went back to drummer Erik Bodin’s kit and tapped along on the hi-hat. It was all playful and good-natured, and Nagano’s behavior seemed mostly to be a model for anyone else who wanted to cut loose from the usual show anxiety and fully enjoy what the room had to offer.

Nagano’s voice is the band’s secret ingredient. It’s light, soulful, jazzy, and, most of all, nimble. Her range is so great that it’s almost as if she’s got two voices: one high and feminine, one low and smoky. She is rhythmically precise, knows how to work a microphone, and practices the perfect amount of vibrato. On top of it all, she’s warm, expressive, and engaging.

The three scruffy Swedes who accompanied Nagano did their jobs with expertise — heads down, tightly focused on the steady, bleeping beats of each song. They didn’t hog the spotlight by any means, but it was apparent how important they are to the band’s success. They kept everything dialed down for a 120-minute set that only veteran players could pull off.

Highlights of the night included opener “Ritual Union” and encore “Little Man,” both from Little Dragon’s new album, also titled Ritual Union. Every song, going back to its self-titled debut and including cuts from 2009’s Machine Dreams, was expertly executed. A few songs were missing — it would have been great if it had found a way to cover “Wildfire,” the dynamite collaboration that Nagano sang with UK producer SBTRKT earlier this year — but I suppose that’s kind of like having your cake and having another cake, too. Source.

Slant Magazine are left rather impressed by Little Dragon’s Ritual Union

Beyond the obvious semantic connections, it’s appropriate that Little Dragon’s Ritual Union’s cover is a gridded assortment of decades-old wedding portraits. The Swedish electronic-pop quartet boasts a sound best described as a collage of timeworn genres, loosely blending clean synth-pop, lounging jazz, ’90s-era R&B, and flourishes of tropicalia into a highly digestible synthesis of textured, percussive energy.

Establishing much of their funky, catchy credentials on 2009’s Machine Dreams, Little Dragon doesn’t break much new ground on their third album, but that’s beside the point. The band’s sound has never been, nor was it intended to be, the most distinct or inventive example of modern, indie-centric soul (that honor belongs to Danish duo Quadron). Little Dragon has always been more interested in the execution of their multi-genre pop rather than a stark reinvention or innovation of it, and Ritual Union represents the best polishing of their patchwork style to date.

Little Dragon often places rhythm and texture at the forefront of their songs, but as on Machine Dreams, gifted lead singer Yukimi Nagano continues to be the greatest facet of the band’s style-spanning sound—a husky, beguiling force that seamlessly swaps power and sexuality for aloofness and anguish from track to track. Her vocal performances prove to be a perfect foil for the angular nature of the band’s instrumentation, matching an organic—and at times bristling—femininity with hygienic, factory-like looping. In other words, Nagano lends the album a face, bestowing a human element to the machine.

Paired with Nagano’s warm, engrossing voice, Ritual Union’s songs become much more than just capable synth-pop fare. “Brush the Heat,” a horn-punctuated clicktrack teeming with buzzing, insect-like percussion, is elevated beyond a mere pleasant glide thanks to the seduction of Nagano’s whispery drawl. “Seconds” proves to be deceptively simple, with Nagano’s barely mouthed coos providing one-half of a blithe, minimalist give-and-take between voice and music.

The album’s twin crowning moments come in “Summertearz,” where vocalist and tempo mimic each other atop stuttering drumpads, and the prickly “Shuffle a Dream,” a catchy-as-hell exercise in barbed synths, vibraphone smacks, and lyrical throwdowns. Here, Nagano is in complete control, as she is on most of Ritual Union. “If you want him, girl, could you share?” she asks.”‘Cuz that’s the deal now, if you dare.” – Source.

The New York Times: Little Dragon “shape shifting effortlessly in Brooklyn”

Wearing a dress covered in purplish sequins, Yukimi Nagano was her own disco ball on Tuesday night. The lead singer of Little Dragon, the deeply able mimics from Gothenburg, Sweden, she was a grade-A shimmier onstage at Music Hall of Williamsburg. When the song called for slinkiness, she bent into undulating curves. When it demanded toughness, she adopted a no-guff-taking posture.

Mostly, though, Little Dragon’s songs demand fealty to style — many styles — and Ms. Nagano had a firm grip on this as well. A clever band, Little Dragon paints with careful brushstrokes: disco, soul, funk, post-punk, electro and more, all faithful to the original textures.

In other words: yes, there was cowbell, banged on here by the bassist Fredrik Wallin, and sometimes by Ms. Nagano. The taut and nimble drummer Erik Bodin is the band’s center of gravity, and the keyboardist Hakan Wirenstrand is convincing, whether driving the melody or adding background support.

For all this dexterity, though, Little Dragon has often felt a little chilly. Its self-titled 2007 debut had promise — part dark, part fractured — but its 2009 follow-up, “Machine Dreams,” was, in places, almost hopelessly twee. The songs were crisp, and sometimes cute, but had little weight.

Its third album, “Ritual Union” (Peacefrog), released last month, is a breakthrough in intensity if not mode. Ms. Nagano sings with more force and attitude, and the band plays with more authority and clarity. That extended to this show, which took even the band’s worst habits and made them appear meaningful.

This being, at heart, a skilled funk band meant that several times it went off on extended but precise vamps in the middle of songs, often leaving Ms. Nagano little to do but smile and shake a tambourine. In these moments the group could have passed for an old record being played over the loudspeaker.

Same goes for Ms. Nagano, who can sound like a sample. She sang Bjork-like vocals on “Never Never”; there were Abba-esque melodies on “Ritual Union”; and “Shuffle a Dream” recalled mid-1980s Minneapolis pop-R&B. At other times Liquid Liquid came to mind, or the Eurythmics, or maybe a late-’70s D.J. set by Afrika Bambaataa, jumbling together funk and electro.

At the encore Little Dragon tackled one more sound: early-’90s club pop, with eerily good covers of Crystal Waters’s “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless)” and Robin S.’s “Show Me Love.”

The fervent crowd had been dancing intensely for an hour at that point and insisted on a second encore, which the band obliged. As it was finally leaving the stage for good, the night’s D.J., Rich Medina, began playing “Hot Music,” the jumpy house music classic by Soho, letting people know that they didn’t have to go anywhere. Even though their disco ball had departed, a dedicated bunch stayed behind to keep the night alive.

A version of this review appeared in print on August 18, 2011, on page C5 of the New York edition with the headline: Shape Shifting Effortlessly in Brooklyn.Source

The Daily Californian reviews Little Dragon’s Ritual Union LP

Electro-pop can’t stop and won’t stop, as is proved by the release of Little Dragon’s third album, Ritual Union. The Swedish quartet, led by the sultry, nymph-like vocals of Yukimi Nagano, flaunt their refined self-assurance with this latest installment of work. In the past, Little Dragon stood above the rest of the electro-pop blur of synthesizers with their knack for dishing out a collage of textured and colorful sounds to satisfy the musical palette. However, this time around, they merely leave you hungry for seconds.

This new album is lacking the fresh musical nuances that their sophomore album, Machine Dreams, created and sustained. Ritual Union gives you an initial hope for what one would imagine the slow jam rhymes of the future to sound like, with songs such as the buoyant title track “Ritual Union” and “Shuffle a Dream.” Yet, it continues on and falters in an attempt to relax into its own coolness. The album gets caught in a slow sway of uncertainty and eventually dozes off in a kind of poetic lethargy. A greater part of the album varies between bare beats and synth riffs that drip with flat-lined moodiness. Granted, Nagano’s croons still echo smooth jazz, but on this record, she has a tendency to subdue them with too many hushed phrases.

The album is not a complete letdown ­— it’s cohesive, consistent, and well-polished, but a bit too plain for its own good.Rather than taking advantage of the raw talent and limitless potential of Little Dragon, the album is shockingly disappointing, albeit still entertaining. Let’s look at Ritual Union as a light appetizer to Little Dragon’s next album where they can hopefully indulge in their fuller, potential genius. – The Daily Californian

Little Dragon’s ‘Ritual Union’ a great song on a pretty good album say Central Michigan Life

Little Dragon’s new album “Ritual Union” mixes the soulful soft voice of lead singer Yukimi Nagano’s with an eclectic collection of sparse electronica backing.

There are a few songs where speed and strength of the electronic backing overwhelms the vocals, especially so in “When I Go Out,” but the album mostly plays out with an unimposing urgency skillfully blending cheery synth keys with arresting vocals.

None of the tracks are likely to move wallflowers to the middle of the room, but they are crafted to make for perfect in-car dancing sessions.

The title track starts the album off with a meshing of kicked up snare drums with Nagano’s breathy chorus.

“Little Man” has Nagano skating over a cheery uptempo beat so well that the whole thing could pass as a Feist song.

Though “Ritual Union” has serious pop crossover potential, the rest of the album is significantly more experimental.

“Seconds” is the last track, and it loops plucky synth sounds into more than four minutes of instrumental. It sounds like the rough draft of a Passion Pit song, which leaves me perfectly happy, but will turn off a lot of people who are drawn in by the first two songs.

Little Dragon is going strong into their fifteenth year of doing whatever they want, but “Ritual Union” lacks the broad appeal hinted at in its opening songs.

While there are 11 solid tracks on offer, this album is going to be playlist fodder more often than something enjoyed in entirety. You can pick up the album for $7.99 on iTunes or streaming for free for those luckily enough to have a Spotify account. – Central Michigan Life