Album Review: Ritual Union by Little Dragon

Ritual Union, released in July 2011, is the third album by Swedish electronic band Little Dragon. Allegedly named after lead singer Yukimi Nagano’s fiery tantrums in the recording studio, Little Dragon have been making music since 1996. Their two previous albums, self titled Little Dragon released in 2007 and 2009’s Machine Dreams make excellent predecessors of Ritual Union, a seemingly more simplistic and paired down album compared to their previous sweeping electronic backdrops and epic instrumentation.
Ritual Union seems to take more of a minimalist approach, with the newly released title track relying heavily on an electronic baseline that’s tapped neatly out on the keyboard. This ostinato is nevertheless successfully catchy, and fits well underneath Nagano’s sensually breathy but sweetly simple vocals. 
The album is produced excellently; balancing the percussive element well as it scuttles around underneath the layers of audio, minutely whispering its presence and getting under your skin. However this means that the music’s quality and intricate nature can only really be appreciated through higher calibre headphones. Through normal-average-Joe-poor-student speakers it’s a shame to say that Ritual Union is enjoyed best as background music. Very good background music, but still background music. Not lift music though, that would just be insulting. 
The hint of Japanese influences seem to have disappeared from this album, a trait that softly lingered throughout Machine Dreams, and has been replaced by more of an 80’s vibe. Particularly in the fourth track Shuffle a Dream; slightly La Rue, slightly Blondie, and slightly suitable for jumping around to in spandex and an awful perm.
The same can be said for the 8th track Nightlight, however with a more affluent array of rhythmic patterning, Nagano’s delicate and airy vocals wind themselves cleverly around the surrounding electronic labyrinth.
It is sad to say that Little Dragon’s reductive approach to this album seems to have resulted in them perhaps taking out a little too much. From listening to it I find myself wanting after a few more expansive vocals as seen in A New from Machine Dreams, where Nagano’s beautifully and extremely capable voice echoes ethereally across a thicker and richer tapestry of sound. Everything seems a bit clipped, a bit quiet, as if Little Dragon’s new studio has been built next to a library or a maternity ward.
If you are new to Little Dragon I highly recommend a visit to their earlier albums before delving into Ritual Union. If you fancy a mix of La Rue, James Blake, with a little Cinematic Orchestra thrown in there, give Little Dragon a go. No doubt they will continue to evolve in their music making and challenge their listeners further – a respectable trait in today’s auto-tuned, consumerist music scene.

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