Little Dragon – Nabuma Rubberband
by David Murphy (Psychology), published May 16th 2014
Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!
Swedish electronic quartet Little Dragon has come a long way from their trip-hop roots on Nabuma Rubberband, their most recent release, which eschews the glitzy jams of their earlier work for a pulsating R&B style. Yet while this new album is awash with grooves, Nabuma Rubberband lacks some of the flavor of their previous releases, and ultimately registers as an unfulfilling, unsatisfying record.
Only a few of the tunes on the record – appearing mainly in the first half – maintain the synth-soul sound of earlier releases like Ritual Union and Machine Dreams. “Paris” in particular feels the most familiar to the Little Dragon style, as the song races along to an eerie pulse complemented by singer Yukimi Nagano’s astounding vocal range. Other songs exhibit the sound of an evolving band, as the group branches out towards deep, tranced-out grooves that recall the slow-burn of contemporary R&B and electronica. This new vibe resonates on tracks like “Cat Rider” and the slow-jam “Pink Cloud,” featuring instrumentals that sound like potential backing tracks on new Frank Ocean or Weeknd singles.
Nabuma Rubberband is a well-produced album, and as such it’s an experience and a pleasure just to listen to it. With eyes closed it feels like an adventure through weightless space, or a walk down a dark downtown street, the night lit up by constellations of fuzzy neon. It is an undeniably sensory album, but beyond the pretty lights, what holds Nabuma Rubberband back is its lack of cohesion. Parts of the album are stuck in a limbo that often affects music of the band’s newly adopted genre: too dynamic and experimental to be background music, not attention-grabbing enough to warrant active focus. Especially after “Lurad”, tracks blend together with grooves that don’t seem to go anywhere, like the incessant title track. Even “Klapp Klapp”, one of the flagship singles of the album, falters due to the disconnect between Nagano’s vocal gymnastics and an instrumental that feels dull in spite of the clap-along track at its forefront.
While the album does suffer at times from this defect, there are still a number of excellent singles on Rubberband. “Underbart” and “Paris” are upbeat, danceable tracks, and the chorus on closer “Let Go” sends shivers down the spine with a love-struck earnestness. Essentially, the issues with this album lie not with individual songs, but instead with the rather unremarkable sum of it parts. Nabuma Rubberband is a beautiful record at points, but it leaves much to be desired and little to be remembered.
Recommended Tracks: “Pretty Girls,” “Paris,” “Let Go”