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Little Dragon tries some slow jams

| Tuesday, August 26, 2014

little-dragon-webKeri O'Mara
The latest release from Swedish electronic band Little Dragon, “Nabuma Rubberband,” was released earlier May 9. It is the band’s fourth studio album and its first to be released through new label Because Music (the label works with other electronic acts such as Moby, Breakbot and Justice). Previously, the band worked with Peacefrog Records. Ironically, where the aforementioned Because Music acts are known for their “French touch” use of upbeat synths to create infective dance and nu-disco tunes, “Nabuma Rubberband” marks a departure from Little Dragon’s earlier, more upbeat albums.

Instead, “Nabuma Rubberband” explores the darker elements which were less prominent in earlier albums. Even from the album’s opening track, “Mirror,” Little Dragon brings in a dark, haunting atmosphere which permeates throughout the album. Like many tracks on the album, “Mirror” is driven almost entirely by a slow, nodding rhythm: a sharp contrast to Little Dragon’s trademark deep, fast-moving synthesizers. Although the album’s three lead singles “Klapp Klapp,” “Paris” and “Killing Me” all retain the “bouncy” sound that Little Dragon invariably delivers on each new release, “Nabuma Rubberband” as a whole gives the listener a slower, downtempo Little Dragon experience.

That being said, slow doesn’t necessarily mean boring. This slower pace leaves room for more experimentation with tempo and rhythm, and Little Dragon takes advantage of more complex rhythmic structures (see tracks “Underbart” and “Let Go”), which have been seen only rarely, if at all, on earlier albums. In escaping the paradigm of synth dance music, Little Dragon also brings a much more emotional experience; these haunting rhythms and slow, minimalist melodies manipulate the mood of the listener in the way only electronic music can. The album shapes a large, dark empty space around the listener — leaving plenty of room for the emotional, pining crooning of vocalist Yukumi Nagano, who comes through in “Nabuma Rubberband” stronger and braver than ever. Nagano’s delicate but wuthering vocals stand in excellent contrast to the strong, commanding beats on the album.

In an interview with Complex, bass player Fredrick Wallin said the band’s developing sound comes hand-in-hand with “understand[ing] synths more and more.” On “Nabuma Rubberband,” the band’s developing relationship with the synthesizer seems to have moved from a blinding worship to a understanding of its strengths and weaknesses. Synth tracks on the album come across as more subtle and complementary to the song as a work, instead of the main attraction to be supplemented.

“Nabuma Rubberband” features slow, walking beats that make for a great listen on a rainy week. The album’s lyrical content deals with deeply emotional topics: another change from the playful and celebratory lyrics of albums past. Lines like “But when this girl’s made up her mind . . . / No turnin’ back, No wastin’ time . . . / Stop braggin’ cause she broke your façade” (“Cat Rider”), or “now I didn’t recognize you/did you lose the playful mood?” (“Mirror”), elude to senses of sickly nostalgia and deep introspection on the part of the band, as well as help the tracks lend themselves to similar purposes during listening. Little Dragon has always hit the spot; its synth heavy hooks and rhythms keep fans committed with each new single, collaboration and album. On “Nabuma Rubberband,” Little Dragon kept this consistent appeal while showing that it can also slow down.

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About Thom Behrens

Thom is working to get a degree in Computer Engineering and, if he can pull it off, will graduate in 2016. In his free time, Thom likes to rip on Pitchfork, read books and hang out with Jay Michuda. Thom enjoys the chipotle alfredo sauce from the dining hall and is proud to represent the Dirty South Bend on campus.

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