Music Reviews
Nabuma Rubberband

Little Dragon Nabuma Rubberband

(Because) Buy it from Insound Rating - 6/10

Despite forming in the mid-90s, it took until earlier this decade for Gothenburg’s Little Dragon to properly break through. When they did, courtesy of the single Ritual Union and the accompanying album of the same name, it was difficult to believe they’d been kept a secret for so long. Ritual Union had a good hook, an insistent beat and a bunch of weird noises – what was there not to love?

Nabuma Rubberband, Little Dragon’s follow-up record and their fourth overall, shows a band comfortable in their own skin who aren’t too concerned about writing three-minute singles to sell to advertising companies. At first it can seem impenetrable and like it has little to latch onto, but Nabuma Rubberband is an album you really have to live with to see why Little Dragon have so much confidence and faith in their own ability.

Opening track Mirror is dark and languorous, its ponderous, sweeping introduction a moment of startling, chiming clarity. Yukimi Nagano’s vocals are extraordinary; she imparts emotion and desperation throughout her stunning range, and provides a human counterpart to the coldness of the enormous, spacious drums. 

In fact, Nagano’s vocals are probably the key feature of Nabuma Rubberband, and they constantly ameliorate the record. She deploys control and aloofness where necessary, but also isn’t afraid to let the feelings flood out when the occasion calls. That said, there always seems to be one layer that she refuses to peel off, so while we’re not quite being kept at arm’s length, we’re not allowed full access to the recesses of her soul, either. Lyrics are occasionally incomprehensible or shrouded in metaphor. It’s a similar approach to that of Liz Fraser in Cocteau Twins – it’s the timbre and technique of the voice that gives the message, the words themselves are largely unimportant.

Each track on Nabuma Rubberband has a little soupcon of another musical style added to the electronica pot. Pretty Girls is gentle but with a funky hip-hop beat, Only One builds into a full-on, Jamie xx-style rave, and Pink Cloud is the kind of warped, dislocated slow jam you could have imagined Aaliyah making in her more obtuse moments. Whist R&B may not be the most immediate reference point, the band have claimed the influence of the more nocturnal elements of Janet Jackson’s work in this album. There’s certainly something of Velvet Rope-era Janet in Nabuma Rubberband and while this collection of songs may not be overtly sexual, they do display a large amount of sensuality.

Nabuma Rubberband isn’t without its ill-judged moments, however. Cat Rider doesn’t fulfil its promise and you’re left with the feeling that it doesn’t cover enough ground over its duration, a criticism that could also be levelled at one or two other tracks here. Also, while electronic wizardry might be one of Little Dragon’s main signifiers, it can also sometimes box them in unnecessarily. Vocals aside, some of the more emotionally affecting moments on the album come from the use of strings, particularly on Pretty Girls and Pink Cloud, where the organic instruments cut through the synthetic walls of sound provided by the band.

It’s 2014, so taking three years to follow up a breakthrough album is a bold move in itself, but to make that record such a slow burner is almost perverse. Whilst Nabuma Rubberband is a rewarding listen, you can’t claim that Little Dragon have accomplished everything they set out to achieve. Ultimately, it’s beautiful yet somehow ephemeral too and while it has strong, clever melodies, they’re often too complex to become what you’d think of as hooks. They’ve got one of the best vocalists in music right now but there’s not a sense of Little Dragon growing and pushing on. Nabuma Rubberband is a solid album, but ideally you want a record that does more than remind you of the band’s existence.