[2014.05.29] Tom Hollingworth, for NE:MM Online Magazine.
Between their last record, Ritual Union in 2011, and now, Little Dragon have worked with some prestigious collaborators on some unique side-projects. Their singer, Yukimi Nagano, supplied vocals for some tracks by DJ Shadow, and also, the band and Big Boi co-wrote the more successful efforts on his Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors record. This May, they deliver their fourth LP, under the enigmatic title of Nabuma Rubberband. When pressed for its meaning in an interview, Nagano said 'It could be a person; could be a state of mind... whatever you want!'
Nabuma Rubberband moves slowly and heavily into the room with the smokey opener Mirror. The song charts a blue romance, and over this unchanging yet menacing landscape of sound, Nagano's vocal range is instantly highlighted as she explores wide-ranging pitches and tones within it. The next installment Klapp Klapp uses a four-to-the-floor snare to shake any prejudice that this album has a singular notion. Throughout, the creativity behind the percussion seems stemmed from heartbeat rhythms: the undulating pulsing in Pretty Girls, the slow, cavernous thumps of Cat Rider, and the higher-demand-for-oxygen beats in Only One. The articulation of each track's movement and Nagano's winding vocal are the celebrated forces in this record, with additional melodic instrumentation being used for fleshing atmosphere. At times these textures yearn for instrumental exploration outside of traditional song formatting.
On the whole Nabuma Rubberband is more somber than its predecessor. There are welcome moments of ignition (Paris being a particularly revitalising shot at the midway point,) but even with those, the flow of the playlist feels clumsy and leaves the album in search of a natural resolution.
The chosen cover art for Nabuma Rubberband depicts a little girl seemingly flying in a misty sky above a wasteland, in front of a dreary cityscape. This seems an apt pairing to an album which sketches elements of imagination whilst never truly freeing them from predictable habitats. Across the playlist, there are nods to 90's dance-halls (the parodic segue Lurad) and House music (Paris) but these heritages are never fully unleashed out of the realms of pastiche. A live environment would nurture and celebrate the moods of these songs more fully, but the cool capture of these recordings, although true to the medium with the gentler songs, castrates the dynamic possibilities of the more lively.