Describing a recent show that had the kids in Northfield, Minnesota literally hanging from the rafters, singer Yukimi Nagano of Swedish band Little Dragon talks a lot about the idea of music as a blissful unifier. “I think we feel sometimes when have these really special moments that are almost euphoric, that going to a show can seem like a kind of ritual,” she says. Their newest record, Ritual Union, sounds like the membership card to that cult of good times, a portable celebration that allows fans to access the ecstasy from the comfort of their homes. “Hopefully,” she says, “people will play the record and by the time it’s over, they will wonder if this is reality or a dream and just say, ‘Who cares, let’s listen to it again.’”
When asked to explain their sound to someone who has never heard them, however, the band, comprised of high school friends Nagano, Erik Bodin, Fredrik Wallin and Håkan Wirenstrand, takes pause to consider. The often used label synth pop doesn’t do the Gothenburg-based group’s third full-length effort the justice it so readily deserves. Of particular note are Nagano’s unexpectedly soulful vocals, which burst with a sultriness that quickly dismisses any image of dorks in lab coats behind a bay of hulking Moogs. On track after track, gleefully shuffling drum lines and spare production underscore a kind of schoolyard simplicity, as if the notes are playing an infectious game of pattycake with your eardrums. “We just love making music and exploring,” explains Wallin. “We always try to stay open and have fun.”
Having fun, for Little Dragon, requires an ethos of trial and error and experimentation. The band feels their way through instead of having preset ideas about how a song should sound. Ritual Union is a groove hit by four musicians playing until they get it right. Back home, a day’s work often sees the band in the studio from 10AM to 10PM, a schedule that makes them so prolific that cutting an album becomes primarily a process of elimination. “We write a lot of music and some of it’s good, you’re loving it at the time, but the next day maybe you’re not feeling it anymore,” says Nagano. “The guys have their set up, and it’s pretty playful. And sometimes we happen to capture a real moment. The songs that we keep are the ones that feel good for a long time.”
Spontaneity like this can only come from the easy camaraderie of life-long friendship, and years of knowing and celebrating each other’s strengths as much as their differences. “Everyone contrasts with each other but still fits together,” says Nagano. “That way, when things go good you share that joy and when things are bad you share that as well. And in the end it’s just rewarding.” It’s a thrill that comes from a deep union, but one that remains open to everyone who listens.