After becoming the voice of choice for everyone from Outkast rapper Big Boi to post-garage maestro SBTRKT to neo-soulman Raphael Saadiq, the ultra-cool Yukimi Nagano and her Little Dragon bandmates now attempt to capitalise on her increasingly high profile with the oddly-named Nabuma Rubberband, a fourth album influenced by “wandering around Gothenburg during the relentless winter.”
Continuing to refine their signature blend of washed-out synths, downtempo beats and Nagano’s detached vocals, the follow-up to 2011’s Ritual Union is largely as icy, atmospheric and intimate as the band’s apparent source of inspiration would suggest. But perhaps aware that this is their chance to make that jump into the mainstream, the Swedish quintet have also imbued Nabuma Rubberband with a much stronger sense of melody than their previous dreamlike fare.
Current single “Paris” is possibly their most hook-laden offering to date, as Nagano’s featherlight tones glide around an addictive fusion of Brat Pack beats, French whispers and flashy synth patterns which could be mistaken for Morse code. “Only One,” which segues effortlessly from a seductive slice of space-funk to a shadowy Eurohouse anthem which recalls Olive’s 90s one-hit wonder “You’re Not Alone,” and “Pretty Girls,” an experimental R&B fantasy about slipping on banana peels and riding unicorns, also contain distinctive tunes that would easily pass the whistle test.
That’s not to say that Little Dragon have sacrificed their low-key charm either. Opener “Mirror” is a gorgeously minimalistic slow jam which backs up the group’s recent claims that Janet Jackson’s 80s output had a major impact on the record. And the exquisitely-produced digital soul of closer “Let Go” and the haunting lullaby of “Cat Ride” also adhere to the less-is-more approach, with enchanting results.
The title may be terrible, but Nabuma Rubberband is an intoxicating listen from start to finish which should cement Little Dragon’s status as the masters of understated Scandi-pop.