I initially saw Little Dragon back in 2010 at the Gorillaz show I saw. I wasn’t too impressed with what I walked in on (got there late for their set). Nevertheless, something obviously caused me to delve further and so I looked towards their latest release.
I originally started this review back in September and it was meant to be out in time for the new site, nevertheless I have finished it and I am now completely familiar with these songs. Away we go.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I actually enjoyed this album. It reopened the door and made me appreciate ‘Electronic’* based music more. I think the band really went out of their way to create and find their own sound that wasn’t too extreme. Catchy melodies, cute Bjork like vocals, old fashioned but forward thinking Moog work.
Opener Ritual Union features an array of electronic work, minimal drum work and obscure woopwah noises. Gliding monophonic Moog sounds, glistening chords and a vocal melody of utter groove. A funk track without any of the typical elements. The perfect opener for this album. It opens up the feel and work of Little Dragon and this album, into the second track…
Short snappy vocals, low filtered square synth bass lines, fast and galloping – this is Little Man. A tale about the so called ‘Big Men’ in the world and about how little they truly are. It features a very Gorillaz ish feel to it (comparing it to Plastic Beach), with a consistent bass riff and a trumpetish synth emphasising the chorus melody.
An obscure and peculiar mix of pitched down vocals, spiking high squeals ‘Brush The Heat’ is kind much more minimal trip hop than anything. Yukimi is heard making la’s throughout the song. It is a hard to grasp track and one that is quite skippable.
‘Shuffle a Dream’ features just that, a shuffling percussive line. It blends Japanese-esque zither lines with jaunty swinging rhythmic chords. The chorus has an ascending melody and later on features brilliant harmonies. After the first chorus is a great tape synth piece that breaks the verses and the chorus up.
Rigidness of the drums in ‘Please Turn’ is controlling the robot dance in you, stop starting it wheels through. Kraftwerk essence of simplicity overcomes the track. Admittedly the whinging vocals on this track are particular grating if you are not in the mood for the song.
‘Crystalfilm’ could have been improved with oddly syncopated drums instead of the constant ‘hearbeat punch’ sound we get instead. However it does feature a change in course of the album, from the first line ‘I lost my grip’ to the run down at the end of each bar. A picturesque track of a distant land in a cartoon world.
‘Precious’ features long wobbling gliding bass, with moody pauses. The fast picked rhythm and the swiping turn into a different section. It progresses and builds back up to the original rhythm with gun shot drums. I’ll admit I’m having trouble describing what this one is and is not.
‘Nightlight’ sounds like a soundtrack to an old bit game of sorts. From the circuit bent and warped drums to the marimba sounding dissonant rhythm, it feels like some metallic boat journey through the electronic jungle. It does suffer from being quite boring though on repeated listens, mainly as it is a continuous pattern.
‘Summertearz’ is a Hot Chip akin track with dissonant steel sounding licks, that expands into a melancholic and uninspired jam track. When I Go Out is an experimental track of the lyrics ‘When I Go Out’ with odd multiple pitched vocals. A low basement percussion hides underneath. The song feels so out of place and it is really too obscure to enjoy.
‘Seconds’ is an instrumental with a tick tock rhythm, I believe an omnichord harp sweep and just a generally moody feel. There is a reason this song works, it is not trying to act different, it is not trying to be obscure and weird, it is just soothing. There is a remix of the song (Syd the Kyd Remix to be specific) that is a lot more accessible and with lyrics.
What Little Dragon offer with this album is some brilliant melodies in songs like ‘Little Man’ and ‘Crystalfilm’, some minimalistic complicatedness, an oxymoron I am aware, in songs like ‘Seconds’ and ‘Please Turn’ and most importantly an essence of texture and fun; pointing towards tracks like ‘Shuffle a Dream’. It is kind of difficult at times to quite understand and appreciate this album however it is easily a grower and with some standout tracks that overshadow the weaker (or more experimental) moments. The second half of the album does fall down compared with the first 5/6 tracks. Nevertheless, with ‘Ritual Union’ Electronic music has never seemed so organic.
All songs written by Little Dragon. (Bold indicate essential tracks)
- Ritual Union – 3:30
- Little Man – 2:41
- Brush the Heat – 4:10
- Shuffle a Dream – 2:58
- Please Turn – 3:34
- Crystalfilm – 4:49
- Precious – 3:51
- Nightlight – 3:25
- Summertearz – 3:50
- When I Go Out – 5:59
- Seconds – 4:30
*In terms of the instruments used for the most part. Some classify them as trip hop, however they are just labels and really just a good way to describe the rough ideas some music convent to. Like a guitar heavy song is ‘Rock’ as it describes what people associate with it. Bughum.