Recently we had a look at Lykke Li’s latest collection I Never Learn and burned through all our quips about Sweden in the introduction to that review however here we find ourselves with yet another stellar release from the country who brought us the controversial file-sharing site The Pirate Bay and the idea of the smorgasbord (From the bottom of our hearts, for this one seriously, we can only thank you Sweden!). Gothenburg quartet Little Dragon first came to the world’s attention with a couple of stellar guest spots on the 2010 Gorillaz album Plastic Beach after existing in relative obscurity off the back of their 2007 self-titled debut and 2009’s Machine Dreams. They continued to build on their reputation for spacey, left-of-center pop with Ritual Union in 2011 and this month they serve up album number four Nabuma Rubberband.
Straight out of the gate with album opener Mirror, the neo-soul tinged vocals of incredible front-lady Yukimi Nagano are as always at the centre of Little Dragon’s futuristic synth-pop aesthetic. Sparseness is the key with a band like Little Dragon who are so positively brimming with amazing ideas that the focus on what isn’t being played is often more important than what actually is. Following on is Nabuma Rubberband’s lead single Klapp Klapp which, for those of us who are already fans encapsulates everything there is to love about this band with its crispy drums and synth wizardry underscoring Nagano’s sensual croon and for those who aren’t, it provides a pretty damn enticing introduction to the wonderful world of Little Dragon. The midnight haze of Pretty Girls somehow makes you feel all warm and fuzzy but steely-cold at the same time with its swirling eastern-inspired strings and drum machine sheen whereas Underbart ups the pace a little with some glitchy percussion and a bowel-churning bass drone.
The dystopian reverb-bath of Cat Rider is about as humanly intimate as electronic music can get and the record’s second single Paris juxtaposes some antsy rhythmic urgency with swooning harmonies and rounds out Nabuma Rubberband’s first half nicely. After Lurad, a confusing 8-second interlude that sounds like the opening credits to a Japanese game show, the second half opens with the record’s title track galloping along with a synth sequence flanked in more cinematic strings and yet another sultry vocal performance from Yukimi which is guaranteed to make you totally smitten.
The minimalism of Only One again highlights Little Dragon’s deft ability to get out of their own way and only give a song what it truly needs for the first half before exploding into an otherworldly Euro-house beat to get your blood pumping. The bass-heavy shuffle of Killing Me gives way to some straight-up ‘90s girl-power vocal layering for the chorus – think Destiny’s Child meets Goldfrapp at their most experimental. Penultimate slow-jam Pink Clouds opens with some shimmering synths and showcases the extent of Nagano’s vocal range with most of the song mostly doubled an octave apart whereas closer Let Go sums up both Nabuma Rubberband and Little Dragon themselves incredibly well with its washy textures counterpointed by digital precision and human soul in the form of some gorgeous vocal work.
The members of Little Dragon have managed to capture lightening in a bottle for the fourth consecutive time on this record and show no signs of slowing down any time soon. Their untethered creativity and eagerness to create these vast yet considered sonic landscapes are only half of their appeal with Nagano’s vocals shining above, beneath and throughout each and every track. Nabuma Rubberband is just another stop on Little Dragon’s incredible journey to who-knows-where but if you’re willing to go along with them, this record is yet another indicator that it’s pretty unlikely they’ll ever lead you astray.