As legend has it, a particular Swedish electronic group was given its band name as a direct result of lead singer Yukimi Nagano’s “fuming tantrums” she’d throw while frustrated in the studio. Nagano, born to a Japanese father and Swedish-American mother, hails from Gothenburg along with her closest friends from high school, Erik Boden, Fredrik Wallin, and Håkan Wirenstrand. The group has now been together for 20 years but, in those early days of recording, was quick to dub Nagano’s notorious tirades as those of a little dragon. And thus, one of (*see Lykke Li) Sweden’s most beloved gifts to the music industry was born.
Little Dragon’s rise to prominence has been a tantalizingly slow, calculated affair. With each of their previous projects, the group has experimented and flirted with different genres, from eccentric pop to soul-dabbled R&B, all based in an encompassing electronic influence. Most recently with their last album, 2011’s Ritual Union, Little Dragon created a striking collection of vibrant synth-based music. From the up-tempo layering of “Brush The Heat” to the frenetic keys and frantic pleas on “Please Turn”, the project was idiosyncratic, as the group seemingly strived to create something existing in its own wavelength. But while the attempt was noble, the end result didn’t always mesh as well as it could have. Take “When I Go Out” for instance, a slow-forming, abstractly-produced track that never really came together. You could also listen to tracks like “Precious” or “Nightlight”, which sounded like funkily beating rhythmic exercises whose weaknesses forced Nagano to carry them on the strength of her voice. But with Nabuma Rubberband, Little Dragon’s fourth studio album and major record label debut, the band crafted their finest and most consistent album yet.
When it comes to going from “indie” to being signed to a major record label, it’s almost always pointed out how total creative control is lost by the artist, and the word ‘compromise’ is something said artist has to quickly come to terms with. But in Little Dragon’s case, the project may have benefitted from a more centralized, mainstream sound. Nabuma Rubberband marks the group’s first album that wasn’t entirely produced in-house, as Danish instrumentalist Robin Hannibal contributed to the project as well. Hannibal, perhaps best known for his work as one half of Rhye, is specifically responsible for two of Nabuma‘s standouts in “Killing Me” and “Let Go”. The former, a rousing electro-dance track, manages to be cool by design and powerful in its execution all while Nagano coolly pelts out a world of hurt and disappointment: “I’ll take my rocket ship, and get the hell out of this/Nothing that I could miss, you’re killing me.” The latter track, is a deceptively upbeat selection, where Nagano’s voice floats along glimmering synths and deep, hollowed drums. “Do you feel so immortal? So real,” Nagano sincerely asks, “Pushing under the rain/Feeling thunder and pain.”
Being a brisk 11 tracks long, where the album truly flexes it’s dynamism is towards its middle. “Klapp Klapp”, Nabuma‘s lead single, is a masterful display of sonic ability, combining organic instrumentation with a strikingly vibrant and modern edge. “Pretty Girls” beats with a subdued energy that’s equally somber and invasive, as the subtle strumming of an electric guitar plays in the background while Nagano warns, “Pretty girl, don’t get stuck/Pretty girl, don’t get struck.” There’s “Underbart”, with its blissful arrangements and mid-tempo’d groove, as well as “Paris”, a warm, translucent song that can’t help but bring about images of a fun trip across the countryside. One of the best selections on the album, however, has to be track no. 5, “Cat Rider“. The velvety sequenced song simmers with syrupy synths and deep, beating bass, providing listeners with a distinctly serene R&B feel as Nagano’s vocals calmly ride the instrumentals like waves.
The Swedish band was interviewed by The Fader back in March, after their performance at SXSW, and revealed a definitive point about themselves that is reflected in the new album. For example, much like their fantastical (and at times silly) lyrics, there is no deeper meaning embodied in the project’s name. “Nabuma is a girl that the guys met when playing in a reggae band,” Nagano said, “…she was a really special character, really strong character and I think she made a really strong impression.” There’s nothing more to it than that and, in case you were wondering, the Ugandan girl doesn’t even know the record’s named after her. The Rubberband part refers to “stripper money”, as Nagano called it. “Why not,” the singer casually asked. That being said, the overall point is that the members of Little Dragon ultimately decide what they want to do. They live in the moment, and create the music that they want to create. And while Nabuma Rubberband compromises the most out of any of the band’s previous projects, the album still manages to strike almost all the right chords, giving fans a positively pleasurable collection of work. Rage on Little Dragon.
Final Verdict: 8.25/10