Little Dragon creates an album that breathes fire

nabumarubberbandMy new favorite album is Nabuma Rubberband, the fourth release by Swedish band Little Dragon. The group has been around since 1996, but it took them 10 years to get their first CD, and three additional albums to reach the apex of their current achievement. That’s another problem with the current state of the music industry: there’s little appetite to nurture bands such as this, to allow them time to mature and truly produce something great.

The band sits at the intersection of rock, Europop and R&B, yet manages to retain a signature sound. There is something intoxicating about the sonic textures, the twists and turns of melody, and Yukimi Nagano’s sensuous voice. The previous albums had great tracks, but the collection on Nabuma Rubberband is at an altogether different level. Take the song “Paris.” Built on a beat and synth riffs that would have been right at home in the 80s, the lyrics express separation from a lover and a decision to run toward something new. Yet it’s not a song of joyous escape. Underscoring the lyrics is the awareness of something that will remain unfulfilled. The chorus melody starts high and optimistic, then slowly spirals down to a darker register. The third appearance of the chorus is not the fulfilling repetition that one expects in most pop songs. Instead, we are thwarted by the omission of sections of the tune, and the final line is left unfinished: where before we had “I’m changing my next flight to Paris,” now we just get “I’m changing my next flight.”

According to an interview in Rolling Stone, Nagano credits Janet Jackson’s slow jams with inspiring the slower tracks. “When you put some of Janet’s really slow stuff on you feel like you’re floating… That feeling really influenced me and maybe that’s why there are quite a lot of slow jams on the record.” The band hails from Gothenburg, not far from where my grandparents emigrated from — perhaps another reason why I’m partial to Little Dragon.

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