The Little Dragon That Could
Little Dragon’s neo dance-soul has slowly but surely snuck its way into the mainstream arena of pop over the last decade. It wasn’t until their third LP, Ritual Union, with the lead single of the same name, that they began to see a higher demand for their brand of subdued trip-pop tunes. Yukimi Nagano transports any listener onto a cloud of pleasant vibes through her sky-high range and soulful vocals. Nabuma Rubberband follows Little Dragon’s highest-charting album to date with a self-indulgent dance album that pulls out all the stops.
Nabuma Rubberband isn’t just any type of dance album, though. Little Dragon craft a unique blend of hypnagogic sophistipop with dance-ready beats that are very headphone-friendly. This fourth LP seamlessly weaves moods that range from a smoky lounge atmosphere with its opening track, “Mirrors,” to the pumped-up single-worthy track “Klapp Klapp.” “Klapp Klapp” starts off with a slightly off-kilter bass and drum duet and transitions into a buzzing lead synth bass followed by Nagano’s words, “Corridor lies with the river / All watery eyes.” It’s her vulnerability when she’s feeling like she’s “fallin’ apart” that strikes a chord with even the most icy of hearts.
The third track, “Pretty Girls,” sounds like it would be playing at any red light district’s underground dance club due to its seductive synths paired with Nagano’s honey-sweet vocals. “Cat Rider” begins with woozy synths and a reverb-heavy snare. Nagano’s vocals sound like a beautiful whisper, like she’s telling the listener a secret, which she is. Her lyrics are a mix of poetry and pensive venting that make this album that much more intimate and dark.
Little Dragon’s production on the album is well thought-out, but instrumentally they lack variety and originality. Nagano may have a soft whisper of a voice, but she’s the strong melodic backbone of every song. The dark atmospheric vibe plays well with her hushed voice, though. It would be interesting to see Little Dragon take a more abrasive approach to songwriting; it’s doubtful that they would, but one can hope.
All in all, Nabuma Rubberband stands apart as Little Dragon’s uniquely experimental dance album. It’s nuanced and understated in the best and worst of ways. At times it can feel a bit repetitive, with Nagano’s vocals sounding like a lullaby while the hypnotic bass creates a sleepy-time atmosphere. At its best, Nabuma Rubberband rides the fine line between being a banger while also being vulnerable and emotive.