The Swedish electro-pop outfit Little Dragon return with their third studio release, Ritual Union. On hearing its title and opening track, as well as its first single, you’d consider it an album of great potential. Indeed the song ‘Ritual Union’ is a electro-pop feast, wetting your palate with a snyth backbone and filling your belly with Yukimi’s delicious vocals. It’s hard to ignore the accessibility that this tune suggests, screaming for primetime radio play. It may not be as good as ‘Twice’, but realistically are this band ever going to top that? ‘Ritual Union’ is their festival anthem, their crowd pleaser, and, I’m sure, soon to be their biggest hit.
But what do we make of the rest of Ritual Union? Unfortunately, it rarely surpasses its opening track; leaving the rest of the album sounding like a collection of b-sides in need of further development. The production sound sticks very closely to the four piece set up and as a result becomes boring and repetitive quickly. Whilst tracks like ‘Little Man’, ’Precious’ and ‘Please Turn’ are catchy enough in their own right, they fall into the brackets of mediocrity in the context of the rest of the album. By the time you’re two thirds of the way through you’re so sick of the simple drum and synth bass that you have to shut it off and go back to listening to The Knife. Although perhaps a slightly unfair point (and it’s maybe even cruel to penalise Little Dragon for their likeness to The Knife when so many other acts also share that likeness) you cannot help but get the feeling that you’d be better off sticking with the electro-pop you already know and love, as the album offers us very little else.
The talent that created ‘Ritual Union’, ‘Feather’ and ‘Twice’ does occasionally surface on the album and these are by far its strongest moments. ‘Crystalfilm’ feels infinitely more developed than the majority of Ritual Union. Yukimi’s lyric and vocal carries the tune, using it as an extra instrument rather than simply as a narrative tool. It’s ‘When I Go Out’ that truly saves this record; ignoring the 3 minute, 4×4 formula the rest of the album follows. Instead it’s patient and spacious, with the drumbeat subtly sketching the direction of the song. The electro elements are used carefully, slowly creeping in and out of earshot. Where other moments on Ritual Union feel empty and as if enough isn’t happening, ‘When I Go Out’ feels reserved and intelligent. When Little Dragon use their experience they have the ability to create something really quite wonderful, but I feel they hurry to make what they can label as definitive ‘songs’ and ‘tunes’, forgetting the reasons why electro music is great in the first place.
Ritual Union certainly shows moments of electronic innovation, and is far more interesting when it does, but sadly it never takes these ideas anywhere. Whilst this album is a competent electro-pop record, it fails to hold its own in a genre that is literally bursting with brighter and more innovative artists.