'Something missing in your smile, something missing in your soul," sings Yukimi Nagano, "tell me why, tell me when." Nagano, the sweetness of the Swedish electro-soulists Little Dragon, coos sublimely on the airy, blippy pop of Little Man, about someone who would seem to have it all, but who does not.
Her coo is breathy and high, lacking a traditional soul singer's oomph. Like a male falsetto, some might hear it as a stylish affectation.
Most hear it as seductive and slyly impassioned - nothing missing in her smile, nothing missing in her soul.
Nagano and Little Dragon are popping up in the best mod places: last year's Gorillaz record Plastic Beach, David (TV on the Radio) Sitek's solo project Maximum Balloon, Rafael Saadiq's Stone Rollin', and an upcoming release from Outkast's Big Boi.
With its third album, Ritual Union, Little Dragon doesn't give its own catalogue short shrift. It's dance-floor pop not chipper or disposable; R&B-inspired club music with digital beats and long glances back at the 1980s.
Please Turn, for example, stamps along moodily, with Reagan-era drum fills and the best of that era's video-game technology. At the risk of dating myself, I'll say that Nagano goes all Quarterflash-emotive in the chorus.
In some cases, the melodies seem to hail from even further back. The polyrhythmic Precious broods, chills and thumps, with Nagano popping in occasionally to brush off (in her best Earth, Wind, Fire & Prince falsetto) a momentary lover.
The exquisite, percolating title track, which questions marriage, has the half-Japanese Nagano in duskier, Motown voice in half of the song - "Love, is not like they say / I lied, it's hard to make it stay" - before rising lighter in the chorus.
Ritual Union is perhaps a more assured and focused record than its worthy predecessors from 2009 ( Machine Dreams) and 2007 (the self-titled debut). Summertearz, which roughly translates to "summer tears," clanks coolly, with imposing backing vocals gathering behind Nagano like storm clouds, while the saddened singer watches "angels dancing in the slowest ways."
Nagano is ultra-alluring, but there's a discreetness at work - imagine Moby in a gentle threesome with the XX.
Or not. Imagine it as you will then.
Ritual Union will take different people to different places, as surely was its intention.
- Little Dragon