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Little Dragon's (un)intentional power

Swedish quartet lets music guide Nabuma Rubberband

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After a grueling four-year stint touring the world, Swedish synth-soul foursome Little Dragon took some much-needed time off from playing shows on the road. During what turned out to be a year-and-a-half hiatus, the group, featuring singer and frontwoman Yukimi Nagano, drummer Erik Bodin, bassist Fred Wallin, and keyboardist Håkan Wirenstrand, gave birth to its fourth studio album, Nabuma Rubberband, which arrived May 13 via Loma Vista Recordings.

Now the crew is back out on the road — recharged. But this go-round, despite enjoying a larger following, don't expect the group to stay on the road perpetually or turn its live show into some massive, unwieldy production. "We started out as a band playing shows and slowly but surely started growing because of people telling their friends about us," Nagano says. "I don't necessarily want to put on a big production because we have more of the opportunity to. Now that the new record is out, we can play the new songs, see that people have heard the music, and watch them sing along. That's an incredible force to experience as an artist."

Along with a refreshed outlook when it comes to performing live, the members of Little Dragon also created the songs of Nabuma Rubberband with a renewed and rather unintentional approach, letting the music guide them as they went along rather than operating with any sort specific creative plan or design. "We'd been on the road for so long, we were yearning to write music," Nagano says. "We didn't really have a concept behind the new material. We just wanted to make something special."

The group's laid-back songwriting and production style comes through on the overall sound of this latest 12-song collection. In the past, Little Dragon albums such as 2011's Ritual Union focused heavily on prompting listeners to move on the dance floor. But Nabuma Rubberband skews more toward the mellow end of the spectrum, serving up low-end, heavy, and mid-tempo cuts such as "Pretty Girls" and the album's title track. Other numbers come off as more ethereal in nature such as "Only One" and "Killing Me," while some are straight-up, bona fide slow jams, including "Pink Cloud" and the Prince-flavored "Cat Rider." This chilled-out sound also proves to be fertile ground for Nagano's often frenetic vocals. On the new album she comes off sweeter, more sensual, and more soulful, as evidenced on the airy "Mirror" and the driving and kinetic "Klapp Klapp."

"I think we all get better in a way," she says. "I guess I also wanted a challenge this time around, in terms of how I recorded the vocals. Maybe, like, saying something whispery that I would otherwise say hard or trying to be more dynamic."

For Little Dragon, emotion and mood served as the central foundational roles in the making of Nabuma Rubberband. "As producers, we're very much about mood," Nagano says. "We're very much about sound. I mean, we don't have group meetings and talk about what kind of sound we want to do or why our sound is different. It's very much an instinctive thing."

Group meetings or not, Nabuma Rubberband embodies a mood and sound that's worthy of coming back to visit again and again.

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