Little Dragon Takes a Darker, Weirder, More Beautiful Turn for Major-Label Debut "Nabuma Rubberband"

"It's dark, cold and gray."

That's how Yukimi Nagano, the electric, eclectic frontwoman of electro quartet Little Dragon describes the band's hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden - but she may as well be outlining the prevailing mood of the group's beautifully challenging fourth full-length, "Nabuma Rubberband." At least compared with the band's last two albums, "Ritual Union" and "Machine Dreams," which featured bouncy, buoyant standouts like "Shuffle a Dream" and "Feathers." The difference isn't a total coincidence. Those two sets were written during the band's nonstop touring through the United States and Europe. "Nabuma Rubberband," on the other hand, was recorded at home, during one of Gothenburg's dour winters, in a new studio the group built after touring behind "Ritual Union."

"I'm not depressed or anything - we were just home," jokes Nagano of Sweden's second-largest city. "You get really introverted and philosophical. You zone out in your own mind. Before we couldn't afford to not tour, so we were writing on the road."

The left turn is somewhat of a surprise considering the success of 2011's "Ritual Union," released on U.K. indie Peacefrog. The album peaked at No. 78 on the Billboard 200; sold 43,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan - nearly double its predecessor - and made the band a critic's favorite. Furthermore, "Nabuma Rubberband" is Little Dragon's first with a major, Loma Vista/Republic. Still, the band avoided past formulas, says Nagano. "We didn't want to repeat ourselves."

The band members' embrace of their darker impulses is apparent on the caved-in coo of "Cat Rider," a lament of mismatched loves. "Pink Cloud" begins with a Beck-like fade-in before collapsing into a downtempo piece of minimalist beat work from bandmates Erik Boden (drums), Fred Wallin (bass, keyboards) and Hakan Wirenstrand (keyboards). It could be mistaken for a meandering piece of early ambient, before it gets saturated in doleful strings, another new addition to the group's synthesizer-heavy palette. First single "Klapp Klapp" starts with a minor acoustic bassline that transforms into a driving Moog before Nagano's pleading, siren-like hook hits.

But beneath that mostly moody pallor, there's still Little Dragon's undeniable warmth. Some call it synth pop, linking the band to Swedes like Lykke Li or even fellow Gothenburg natives The Knife's early work. But a more accurate term would be synth soul. "We really like when electronic music isn't all electronic," says Nagano. "A human touch has played it throughout the whole take. It feels a little flawed, which makes it more alive, a little more soulful."

That soul was on full display in the desert of Indio, Calif., during Coachella's two weekends in April. The moon was beaming through the dust storms for both of Little Dragon's Sunday night sets, and so, as usual, was Nagano, whose R&B-influenced melodic runs and pixie-like presence have made her both an indie fan-boy crush and an in-demand collaborator for the likes of Gorillaz, SBTRKT and Big Boi. "Having that in-the-moment feeling, when you're having a good show yourself - it's spiritual," says Nagano. "The music puts you in a trance; it feels good and you want to stay there. It's kind of like getting stuck in a beat."

But Nagano and company are far from static. For one, the band will tour the States in June. And secondly, Little Dragon is already beginning to conceive the next step in its fascinating evolution.

"We just finished this album, but in our minds, we've already moved on," says Nagano. "We're already thinking about new music, the next album. We just want to keep creating."


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