Monday, December 5th, 2011

AMNESTY 2011: Little Dragon – Ritual Union

Not to be confused with Boots, Brother or Dragonette…


Kat Stevens: I adored Little Dragon’s self-titled debut album thanks to Yukimi’s awesome contradictory voice (both tense/fragile AND smooth/clear), and the painstaking production — so carefully put together to ensure the atmosphere was exactly appropriate and different for each song (claustrophobic, playful, poignant, optimistic, confusing.) “Ritual Union” seems almost messy in comparison. Yukimi is breathless and mumbling, and the drums collapse on top of each other in a heap. It’s still lovely music to have swirling around your head, but I can’t seem to latch on to it in the same way as “Twice” or “Constant Surprises.”

Jer Fairall: Pretty yet unsettlingly tense, the singer’s icy detachment resisting the gauzy swirl of the music. The music is a joy, though, wringing warmth from the softer tones of synth-pop with a wobbling little mechanical hook anchoring the whole thing and a lineage traceable through the electric dreams of Kraftwerk, Freur and Imogen Heap.

Alfred Soto: The insinuating electro backdrop is only the most striking element, not when the singer does Shirley Manson at her queerest-of-the-queer best.

Edward Okulicz: My introduction to LD singer Yukimi Nagano was her vocals on Koop’s sublime “Come To Me,” and “Ritual Union” too shows her gift. She can be soulful, she can be vampish, and she can be warm and sympathetic too. That said, I’m not warm to the song. Even though I love the surrounds, and the mid-song sax solo is worthy of ’80s INXS (I’m serious, guys), overall it’s a breeze that barely ruffles my hair.

Sally O’Rourke: I saw Little Dragon open for TV on the Radio a couple of years ago but remembered nothing about them. Based on “Ritual Union,” I can understand why. The band prefers subtlety over flash: once they find their groove, they’re content to settle there. At least “Ritual Union” has a nice one. The synths burble around the beat to keep it from growing stale, and Yukimi Nagano’s Princely moans are too slinky to ignore. After multiple listens, though, I started to wish for one great hook or left turn, something to keep it from gliding away on its own sleekness.

Zach Lyon: They sure love that synth twang, don’t they? I’m always convinced that Little Dragon is one of those bands that aren’t a tenth as subtle or nuanced (or, frankly, cool) as they think they are, and their songs end up in a limbo between what they are and what they obviously want to be. Regardless, “Ritual Union” hits too many pleasure centers, including one of my favorite bass lines that pop up all the time, faux-soul vocals that sound like they come from a nervous musical theatre geek, and breezy smooth sax solos. The twang is pretty nice, too.

Brad Shoup: Chillwave R&B, I guess, with a simple bass-led progression and those alternately unsteady and bell-like synths. Yukimi Nagano offers a kind of flattened soul, absolutely apropos for a nightmare wedding. It’s hard to nail down the scenario — someone has a mistress, and maybe there’s an abortion — but the pressure is palpable. Around the two-minute mark, the bent-brass synth pads blow in like fog; I looked up at their conclusion, and was dismayed to see they had not helped her escape.

Josh Langhoff: Serious question: does anyone know when Maxwell’s gonna get around to releasing parts II and III of his “trilogy”?

Jonathan Bogart: I guess it’s time for me to come to terms with the realization that I am not the only person deeply nostalgic for the sound a cassette player made when you paused it while recording.

Alex Ostroff: Those suddenly blooming synth bursts feel like they’ve been broadcasted in from a Night Slugs club night two doors over from Little Dragon’s studio (or Jacques Greene’s last 12″.) The understated vocals seem like a liability at first, but Yukimi Nagano is intuitive, and the holding back is purposive and incredibly effective, giving the production enough space to do its thing. No big hooks here, but lots to love.

Katherine St Asaph: I value precision in music, and both the quantized jitter and snap to the framework and Yukimi’s staccato voice qualify nicely. I also value swooning, and “Ritual Union” swoons both with orchestration and the sounds of curious machines, peering their lights around and playing with the whooshes they can make. This extends to the lyrics, too; the marriage is just a “ritual union,” an anthropological term, and the other woman’s just an old-newspaper stylebook “mistress,” but they coexist with seaside drowning and fallen petals and sinking sand and other perfumed poetics only found in imagination. Few artists get all these proportions right, let alone do them all this well.

Iain Mew: I’ve spent a lot of 2011 thinking about my upcoming wedding, and marriage has seemed to keep coming up in songs by my favourite acts. Patrick Wolf’s “Bermondsey Street”, Emmy the Great’s “A Woman, A Woman, A Century of Sleep”, Braids’ “Peach Wedding”. Er, “Marry the Night”? All of those aren’t really or solely about marriage, though. This Little Dragon song… well, it’s the title track of an album called Ritual Union with this cover. No doubt with this one. Musically, it’s a bit of electro soul that’s superficially a little tasteful and ignorable, though the way its minimalist rhythms are gradually adorned by a stream of gorgeous burbling electronics is obvious to appreciate. Pay any attention to Yukimi Nagano’s lyrics and performance, though, and the depth of barely contained emotion is clear. “Ritual union’s got me in trouble again,” she starts. Not a husband, wife or person, but the union (or ritual) itself. She goes on to flit mysteriously between past, present and future, never quite settling on personal details or much of a fixed identity but conjuring a world of emotions and implications with a few images. The refrain of “a white dress and a mistress and a spirit holding my hand”; “petals falling on demand”; the pleading invocation of her mother; a trapped and stoic “I drowned my feelings in the sea”. And all the while as she emotes, the beat thunks away implacably, almost oppressively, weighing her down like all of the pressures, the expectations, the family and societal history that she and those before her have brought in by putting their relationship onto so public and permanent a basis. It’s a remarkable song, but it has been unfortunate personal circumstance that has turned this from a mere [10] into my single of the year. I was meant to get married a couple of weeks ago. We had to postpone and now have to wait another year, for reasons outside of our relationship and our control, and it’s been a trying few months. I don’t relate to the infidelity narrative lurking in “Ritual Union.” The sense of powerlessness and the apprehension that sits alongside positive emotions when entering into something which is such a Big Deal, even when happily committed to a very long-term, serious relationship? Sometimes I relate to those more than I would like.

3 Responses to “AMNESTY 2011: Little Dragon – Ritual Union”

  1. Today is Katherine Loves Everything day. Spoiler: tomorrow isn’t.

  2. Not to get too spoiler-heavy, but yeah, what Katherine said.