The Stool Pigeon believe it’s Little Dragon’s moment to hit the big time

When a marginal band strikes gold, the temptation is to snatch for the insufferability megaphone and tell everyone you saw it coming. Those fingers twitch with particular urgency in the case of Ritual Union and Gothenburg’s Little Dragon, whose fragmented soul-pop’s arrival at the mainstream is not so much ‘surprise visit’ as ‘scheduled appointment’ — slotting in just after The xx bottled post-coital bliss without climaxing and moments before every dog and its owner’s wife inevitably starts trying to funk out with a tantalisingly low-key, barely-there essence.

Up to now the steamy foursome has performed an awkwardly euphoric balancing act on the cusp of accessibility, too clever by half to jump the shark before mastering wonky-soul glitch-groove but too subtly melodic, light of touch and, frankly, Swedish of sensibility to put a jittering foot wrong. Ritual Union is a gentle resurfacing of their landscape, sliding every sliver of triangle that fractional beat closer to the pulse, every finger of synth to its rightful place, by the most gradual increments, until it starts to resemble some wildly zig-zagging contortion of pop — or some future-soul collab, perhaps, between Erykah Badu and Micachu, co-produced by the esteemed cast of Hyperdub on Ice.

That’s not to say they’ve made any headstrong detours down the aisle of predictability; rather, they’ve tempered their already loose and limber jams with fleeting glimpses of gruesomely mashed-up melody (‘When I Go Out in October’) and lurching technological whirrs every bit as thrillingly original as they are familiar (‘Ritual Union’). The result is a gently propulsive, alt.soul heavyweight, and with plaudits rolling in from pop-godheads like Damon Albarn, Dave Sitek, DJ Shadow and Andre 3000, the spotlight surely beckons. Hark, Little Dragon! Now scale the heights of your winged ambition! – The Stool Pigeon

This is how it’s done: the Guardian review Little Dragon’s Ritual Union

“Swedish quartet Little Dragon spent 10 years playing together before they got around to releasing even a single. They’re now on their third album, but that history of self-containment still seems to colour their music. They can sound aloof, as on the title track, with its keyboards that sound like glittering icicles. Or they can sound combative: the bass melody running through Please Turn buzzes oppressively, while top of the mix in Brush the Heat is a high-pitched whine that bores into your ears. Mitigating this coolness, however, is singer Yukimi Nagano, whose impassioned vocals suffuse each song with emotion. The catch in her voice as she sings of how “love is nothing like they say” in Ritual Union is intoxicating; so are her choruses to Shuffle a Dream and Little Man. And as the album withdraws from the dancefloor to the lonelier darkness of Summertearz and Seconds, Nagano lures you to follow.” – The Guardian

SPIN provide a lazy but positive review of Little Dragon’s Ritual Union (7/10)

“Since this Swedish electro-soul quartet’s slinky 2009 album, Machine Dreams, singer Yukimi Nagano has emerged as a Nicki Minaj for pop’s smart set, stealing the scene with various guest spots (Gorillaz, Raphael Saadiq, Maximum Balloon). Little Dragon’s third full-length deepens the group’s down-tempo mix of icy techno and smoldering R&B. If Ritual Union does moody ambiguity better than meaningful hooks (“Wonderin’ of a white dress”? Me, too!), well, Nagano’s smoky, pillow-soft purr speaks volumes.” – SPIN

Paste Magazine’s Jeff Gonick dissects Ritual Union

I don’t think I like electronica. The emphasis in that statement should be on the word think. Because while I don’t think I like it, in actuality, I do. I love The Knife, I obviously enjoyed Architecture in Helsinki’s new album and I find myself listening to Hot Chip alone late at night more than I’d like to admit. Somewhere between The Knife and Architecture in Helsinki is Little Dragon. Their press release describes the music on the foursome’s latest album as blending “R&B, new wave, electronica and experimental pop.” And when it works, that’s exactly what it does.

At its best, Little Dragon’s Ritual Union finds the thin intersection that makes an electronica album worth owning: emotionally taut lyrics, beautiful vocals, the metronome of drum machines and abstract electronics that create a sound that’s at once unique and strangely familiar. The album opens with one of the best examples of the chemical equation being perfectly balanced; the title track doesn’t waste any time letting you know how good this band can be. It doesn’t simply get things going, it gets you excited for everything to come. The next two songs are skippable, but then there’s a three-song run that touches the same high-water mark set at the album’s start. “Shuffle a Dream” is a great club entry track, “Please Turn” feels delightfully retro, a beat driving a lyrical mantra that’s punctuated with exploding reverbs at the end of run-on sentences, and “Crystalfilm” sends cavernous vocals careening off crystalline walls, sounding like it was recorded in Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. After this inspired trifecta, my expectations returned to where they were after the first three and a half minutes. Then came three songs that brought me right back down. “Precious,” much like the movie of the same name, is overwrought and heavy-handed. “Nightlight,” much like the invention, has to be turned off at a certain point in life and “Summertearz,” much like the background music in that underwater level of the original Sonic the Hedgehog is frustrating despite some fun.

Ritual Union is an album that has about as many standouts as skip-overs. The standouts are songs that won’t get old, but the skip-overs aren’t the type to grow on you, more the type that a significant other might use in the morning to fuck with your fragile early stages of consciousness. For fun, I think tonight I might put the album on shuffle and experience my own little brush with sonic schizophrenia. I might get a song that’s put together just right, that makes me want to bounce off walls and bump into bodies wrapped in tight, tattered tees, but there’s a chance I’ll get a discordant assembly of sounds and ideas rolling out of my speakers like a free-associating and kinda confusing monologue. It’s a coin toss, and sometimes a coin toss can be pretty fun. – Jeff Gonick

Recordoftheday.com highlight Little Dragon’s “Ritual Union” single

With its addictive groove and soulful vocal, Ritual Union is an excellent piece of electro-pop which looks set to push Little Dragon onto the edge of mainstream success. Among an impressive roll-call of collaborators so far includes Damon Albarn, who invited Little Dragon to feature on two tracks on Gorillaz’ Plastic Beach. SBTRKT flew Swedish-Japanese vocalist Yukimi Nagano over from their native Gothenberg to collaborate on Wildfire – one of his debut album’s highlights. Now Andre 3000 has tipped Big Boi off about the band, leading to an invite for them to perform on his next album. Radio coverage has started strongly with 6 Music supporting with a playlist addition and a Lauren Laverne live session and interview scheduled to happen this month. Ritual Union could be their tipping point with Radio 1 support lined up in the shape of an Annie Mac mini-mix the week of release. – Recordoftheday.com

FILTER magazine’s first impressions of Ritual Union

First Impressions:
– Ritual Union is Little Dragon’s third album in four years. The sound on it is an expansion of their previous albums, playing out bigger and louder than their earlier work. It is out on July 26, released through Peacefrog.

– The vocals here are like a more upbeat version of The XX’s vocals. They are introverted, personal and enchanting, drawing in the listener to hear what lead singer Yukimi Nagano actually has to say.

– Ritual Union sounds like a low-key Euro-pop album, and that’s exactly what it is. Based out of Gothenburg, these Swedes get you to dance, but not when you expect to. It’s an introspective album that starts off in the background but quickly becomes the main event of the evening. Its catchy beats and abstract synth tones sneak up on you as the album plays through.

– By the time you reach the single, “NightLight,” the album is full-fledge. It’s hard not to be into it by this point. “NightLight” is a strange song with its piercing synth that sounds like an homage to some of the ’80s’ more unorthodox hits (think The B52’s). By the time the song is over, it’s hard to remember how it even started, so you just have to play it again. Check “NightLight” below.

Key Tracks:
“Little Man,” “Shuffle A Dream” and “NightLight”

Predictions:
Ritual Union is a toe-tapper. Like I said earlier, it is an introspective electronic album that actually requires some attention, which makes it uncertain as to how it will be received upon release. As long as listeners don’t give up to easily, it should find a home with the fans of artists like Massive Attack and Twin Shadow. – FILTER

musicOMH’s David Welsh gives Ritual Union four stars

Gothenburg four-piece Little Dragon made a bit of a splash with their 2007 self-titled debut – standout tracks Twice and Test the subject of particular acclaim – but did not, for whatever reason, seem to seize the initiative with 2009 follow-up Machine Dreams. Standing steadfastly with their post-dubstep mode, Little Dragon (named for the temper tantrums of Swedish-Japanese lead singer Yukimi Nagano, apparently) return once more with their stylish blend of minimal synth-pop and last-decade R’n’B.

With the odd accusation of chill-out room sample-friendliness though, are they right to stick to their guns? Labelmates Jose Gonzalez and Nouvelle Vague are pigeonholed as mere TV ad soundtrackers more often than not, so shouldn’t Little Dragon aim to break the mould while they still can?

In a word, no: Nagano and co have honed their craft since forming their band as high school chums, and now is not the time to change tack. Eponymous album opener Ritual Union, in fact, immediately ranks among the very best of their material: deep dub bassline, ear-twitching synth flourishes and – of course – the timbre of a voice so instantly gratifying that it just about stole the show on Gorillaz’s Plastic Beach LP.

At the point of this, their third album proper, Little Dragon are clearly kings of their castle: Little Man trips along with the self-assurance of a veteran, its chary juxtapositions enough to stop listeners in their tracks; Brush The Heat rolls out falsetto paranoia, discordant progressions and Nagano’s now-trademark vocal distortions; Shuffle A Dream bounds forth with a fistful of resolution, upscaling dark wave with an up-to-the-second deftness.

Such resolution, perhaps inevitably, carries through: Ritual Union strays little from its formula, the band seemingly intent on exploring, exploiting and expounding the virtues of their particular expertise. Please Turn, for instance, exhibits a thudding, pleading variation on a theme, but could conceivably sit just about anywhere in the tracklisting – and the same applies for every one of Ritual Union’s constituent parts.

Not that Little Dragon should have their consistency held against them. Indeed, the overriding impression is that the band are cramming ideas into their formula rather than sticking to a formula for a lack of ideas: Crystalfilm’s chillwave harmonies strike a chord, spurred on by bare-but-compelling percussion; Nightlight adopts Casbah-pop, sounding like Santigold in Algiers.

The album’s tail-end, of course, represents carte blanche for even the staunchest of genre exponents, and Little Dragon are no exception as Summertearz ushers in languid, comparatively organic acoustics and a minimal canvas. Further, When I Go Out – Ritual Union’s longest and most indulgent track at six minutes long – sees the band positively experiment, its pitch-bending, minor chord cornucopia coming across like a lucid nightmare, while album closer Seconds has more than a touch of the cheery wistfulness that made Nagano’s guest spot on Gorillaz’s Empire Ants so enjoyable.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Little Dragon clearly weren’t broken, so they haven’t tried to fix themselves; they have instead filed their art into an incisive point, and with Ritual Union stand at the top of their trade. This is far more than instantly-forgotten ad fodder. – musicOMH

Soulculture.tv review Little Dragon’s Ritual Union record

Swedish electronic and synth-pop band Little Dragon return with their third studio album Ritual Union. Having won us over on their 2007 self-titled debut album with their adept left-field interpretation of contemporary American R&B and Soul music and with such beautiful songs as “Constant Surprises” and “Twice,” Yukimi Nagano and her Little Dragon quartet returned in 2009 with Machine Dreams. A further move to the left and away from the R&B and Soul roots of their debut album, Machine Dreams delved into more experimental, rich and luscious sounding Electro-Pop domain and boasted such exceptional records as “Fortune,” Thunder Love” and my personal favourite Little Dragon song, “Blinking Pigs”. Two years on and it seems the band have kept their fans waiting for long enough – but has our two year wait been well worth it?

The album’s title track and opener is quite the captivating start to this 11-track album. Kicking off with [and largely backed by] tingling guitar chords, snare sounds, sharp drum kicks and bouts of electro-goodness, “Ritual Union” provides the ample backdrop for Yukimi’s hauntingly ethereal vocals and compelling lyrics. Add the interjecting dreamy instrumentation and keyboard licks that are sprinkled all over the song and that lush synth-solo in the middle of “Ritual Union,” setting up the listener rather nicely for a thoroughly enjoyable listen to come.

“Brush the Heat” is immediately captivating. Once it begins and those glorious backing harmonies hit you after about five seconds, there’s really no turning back. The thumping drum patterns set in soon after, accompanied by a synth-line that roams throughout underneath the layers but also bursts into life at the forefront every now and again. Then Yukimi’s vocals – with a slightly darker and subdued tone than the album’s opener but equally compelling – kick in, taking centre stage with the musical backdrop (the drum patterns have dropped down a notch seemingly to match Yukimi’s subdued tone but the backing harmonies are still just as glorious) obliging to exquisitely wrap itself around Yukimi’s vocals to wonderful effects.

Another stand-out song on the album, “Shuffle A Dream” falls easily into an Electro-Pop box in the traditional sense of the subgenre with danceable, thumping electronic synth chords and basslines with glitchy, synthesized instrumental solos as a bed for Yukimi’s inviting vocals. The subtle and delicate manner in which “Shuffle A Dream” slides into “Please Turn” (you will not notice it’s a new song on some listens) is rather exquisite in itself. Albeit not as good “Shuffle A Dream,” the pleasant “Please Turn” is also backed by a thumping bass line but also accompanied by bold drum kicks and glitchy and fast-paced synth chords and progressions.

“Precious” is certainly worthy of mention just for how immense it sounds. From the commanding drum-led introduction to the electronic bass line and drum patterns that form the musical milieu of the record to Yukimi’s arresting vocals (high-pitched, then low-pitched, then high again) to the lush body-moving chord and synth progressions backed by head-bopping drum kicks and interjecting quick-fire drum machine goodness that take over the second half of the record, this is pure electronic goodness from start to finish.

“Nightlight” is the official first single from the Ritual Union album (“Ritual Union” is the second and latest single) and you can immediately see why. This is vintage Little Dragon while still remaining largely similar in temperament to mainstream Pop music. Starting off with a bold and pounding drum break before switching into full Pop mode with lush keyboard chords, ethereal synths and a catchy drum pattern, this song captures much of the essence of Little Dragon as a quartet.

“Summertearz” and “When I Go Out” are easily two of my favourite songs on the album and I love how both songs entwine seamlessly. The instrumentation on “Summertearz” is so catchy and the way in which Yukimi weaves her vocals and backing harmonies around this record is so captivating that it’s very hard and near-on impossible not to be interested. Whereas “When I Go Out” sets a darker tone with echoey lingering vocals from Yukimi, a fast-paced and almost minimal-sounding drum pattern and the amazingly trippy instrumentation led by glorious synths, excellent variations of that existing fast-paced drum pattern and big cinematic musical backdrops that come in just over the two minute mark.

I should spend at least a few words to mention the songwriting and lyrical dexterity on this album, of which “Crystalfilm” and “11 Seconds” are such ample examples. Much has been said about Little Dragon’s musical abilities and Yukimi’s excellent vocal presence and gift and it could be so easy to overlook how good the writing on this record is – but only at our own peril. You definitely have to listen attentively on much of this album because you’d be lost in the excellent music otherwise but you’ll be better for it if you do pay attention to the words.

I also especially love the overall cohesiveness of this record from track one to 11; all tracks seamlessly joined together, weaving in and out of each other so effortlessly that sometimes it feels like you’re listening to one singular, glorious Little Dragon music session. No sooner than you’ve pressed play on the first song “Ritual Union” and you’re zoning out to the amazing songs, music and vocals on the album do you realise that it’s already back at the beginning song already.

Thoroughly enjoyable and compelling with immense repeat play value.

Little Dragon – Ritual Union
Released: July 25, 2011
Label: Peacefrog
Soulculture.co.uk