I don’t think I like electronica. The emphasis in that statement should be on the word think. Because while I don’t think I like it, in actuality, I do. I love The Knife, I obviously enjoyed Architecture in Helsinki’s new album and I find myself listening to Hot Chip alone late at night more than I’d like to admit. Somewhere between The Knife and Architecture in Helsinki is Little Dragon. Their press release describes the music on the foursome’s latest album as blending “R&B, new wave, electronica and experimental pop.” And when it works, that’s exactly what it does.
At its best, Little Dragon’s Ritual Union finds the thin intersection that makes an electronica album worth owning: emotionally taut lyrics, beautiful vocals, the metronome of drum machines and abstract electronics that create a sound that’s at once unique and strangely familiar. The album opens with one of the best examples of the chemical equation being perfectly balanced; the title track doesn’t waste any time letting you know how good this band can be. It doesn’t simply get things going, it gets you excited for everything to come. The next two songs are skippable, but then there’s a three-song run that touches the same high-water mark set at the album’s start. “Shuffle a Dream” is a great club entry track, “Please Turn” feels delightfully retro, a beat driving a lyrical mantra that’s punctuated with exploding reverbs at the end of run-on sentences, and “Crystalfilm” sends cavernous vocals careening off crystalline walls, sounding like it was recorded in Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. After this inspired trifecta, my expectations returned to where they were after the first three and a half minutes. Then came three songs that brought me right back down. “Precious,” much like the movie of the same name, is overwrought and heavy-handed. “Nightlight,” much like the invention, has to be turned off at a certain point in life and “Summertearz,” much like the background music in that underwater level of the original Sonic the Hedgehog is frustrating despite some fun.
Ritual Union is an album that has about as many standouts as skip-overs. The standouts are songs that won’t get old, but the skip-overs aren’t the type to grow on you, more the type that a significant other might use in the morning to fuck with your fragile early stages of consciousness. For fun, I think tonight I might put the album on shuffle and experience my own little brush with sonic schizophrenia. I might get a song that’s put together just right, that makes me want to bounce off walls and bump into bodies wrapped in tight, tattered tees, but there’s a chance I’ll get a discordant assembly of sounds and ideas rolling out of my speakers like a free-associating and kinda confusing monologue. It’s a coin toss, and sometimes a coin toss can be pretty fun.