What do you do when your first two albums propel you into international recognition and firmly plant you at the forefront of an electro-soul movement? If you're Little Dragon, you don't simply rest on your laurels, you release Ritual Union, the highly anticipated follow up to 2009's Machine Dreams. Digging even deeper into experimental sounds than their previous sets, Ritual might be the most ambitious record that LD has made thus far.
Where their debut Little Dragon was more soulful and Dreams had a more electronic bent, Union
blends in '80s New Wave into their eclectic mix. In songs like "Little
Man," "Please Turn," "Nightlight," and "Crystalfilm" you'll hear
influences from the likes of Talking Heads, David Byrne, and Devo.
Interestingly enough, it's almost the perfect middle ground between the
sounds of the two previous albums, allowing for LD to realize their pop
and R&B leanings without forsaking their electronic ambitions.
Though it's hard to single out a handful of standout tracks on Ritual Union,
the three that immediately grabbed me were "Brush the Heat," "When I
Go Out," and "Seconds." "Brush" is just a funky, danceable track (and
the best use of cowbell in a song that I've heard in ages). "When I Go
Out" is probably the most experimental track I've ever heard by Little
Dragon. Yukimi's vocals are distorted throughout and set against a
pulsing tribal beat, strings and found sounds. The effect is
mesmerizing and really makes you focus on the contemplative lyrics. By
far my favorite track from the set is album closer "Seconds." Perhaps
the most fully-realized song of the entire set, it's tender and full of
longing for a relationship that could've been but was just never enough.
"Seconds" also highlights one of the biggest frustrations that has come
up with Little Dragon. As with all of their albums, the main drawback
here is that some of the songs feel just a tad underdeveloped. LD has
always put groove above lyricism and songwriting and there are moments
where good songs could have been superb with a more realized concept
behind them like there is for "Seconds."
Will this be the album that guarantees Little Dragon immense mainstream
success? Not at all. But I don't think that's the point. LD has always
made left-of-center music that is interesting to them album by album. Ritual Union is
no different. In fact, you could venture to say that it's the natural
progression of the group's musical journey, one that you'll always want
to follow just to see where they'll take you next.