In an album that rushes over you in a blackout of sameness, pinpricks of true inspiration urge you to keep on listening.
Swedish pop band Little Dragon are only just starting to make a solid mainstream name for themselves, two albums into their career, thanks to a little boost from the likes of Gorillaz and SBTRKT . Respect from such high-profile admirers suggests that there is potential in Little Dragon for something astounding, something ground-breaking after their somewhat underwhelming first two albums. Expectant gazes, then, have settled on their third LP, believing that Ritual Union will be the platform through which they finally make themselves heard. What they deliver on the record, though, is an album that suffers under the weight of this expectation, sacrificing variation and development for safety and mediocrity, interrupted only sporadically with glimpses of the band as they could, and should, be.
The consistently structured tracks, time after time, show something of a lack of direction, as each four-minute construction ebbs and swells in a similar fashion. The lack of depth to tracks like Nightlight and Crystalfilm creates a sense that these compositions have nowhere to go; lovely though they are, they are stuck in that loveliness, circling through it as though lost. This is a worrying theme that spirals through the core of several tracks, with driving beats failing to ever arrive at a conclusion, merely driving around aimlessly until their time is up. At times the noises seem almost random, zipping through the tracks with no intent or purpose, only restless whims, to guide them.
There are moments, though, in which the band crack through the surface in this album, briefly reaching beyond its blanket-structure to reveal an entirely different, entirely incredible side of themselves. Yukimi Nagano’s vocals are delicious, bouncing between ranges and pitches as effortlessly as you hit the play button; the first two tracks, Ritual Union and Little Man flaunt this dramatically, pitching her voice and the excitable rhythm against one another in a glorious battle. Something about her vocal is slippery, gliding through Little Man_’s high chorus before sliding down into an alluringly low chant in _Brush the Heat. It’s difficult to imagine this sublime, character-oozing voice ever becoming dull, and Yukimi carries many of the most interesting moments of the album. The production, too, shows fitful glimmers of outrageous genius – for example, on gloomy track When I Go Out, a skittering, echoing song that conjures thoughts of empty spaces, cold breezes and distant footsteps. The delicate attention that breathes through this song is mesmerising, but glaringly missing from other spots of the record.
The songs that might be considered the spindly, breakable aspects of the album are coupled with enough weighty substance to make this a record worth noticing – although the tracks never quite match up to the title song (except When I Go Out, which is really in a league of its own), this doesn’t mean you should switch off once Ritual Union ends. The light-hearted mess of pop may be easily glazed over in listening, but amongst it all there are snatches of sound which are a little bit amazing, and reminders of the band that the world was hoping to hear.