Little Dragon: Nabuma Rubberband- It takes a few listens to appreciate the complexity of Nabuma Rubberband, Little Dragon’s fourth studio release. At first, you may miss the quick-stepped allure of radio hits like ‘Ritual Union’ or ‘Twice’ but this R&B infused brand of Little Dragon results in their most cohesive album yet and after a few more listens, it clearly becomes the most innovatively produced as well. After you’ve succumbed to singer Yukumi Nagano’s siren-esque whisper and dense zen vibe, close your eyes and you can hear all the layers of sound in Nabuma Rubberband, yet the most impressive thing about the album remains how Little Dragon utilized technology to enhance the soul, R&B element of their album, the humanity of it. While Nagano sings about dysfunctional relationships, she maintains her slightly distant rapport. These may not be a confessional display of her, or any of the other members, but she achieves a pained tone in her suddenly deeper sounding voice and which speaks to the human condition in a beautifully different album.
The first song ‘Mirror’ begins and it’s slow, pounding percussion leads us into the exploratory “journey” Little Dragon designed for this album. Nagano’s voice ragefully quivers out, barely whispering “You’re gonna make me put my fist through this mirror.” The song shakes like an angry lover’s lip, capturing the silent rage in the lyrics, which are only further intensified by their quiet delivery. ‘Klapp Klapp’ picks up speed with glittering keyboard and an up-tempo beat that’s dubbed out and danced-up. It’s funkier than the previous song but the repetitive clapping disappoints until the chorus ends and more gritty synths cloud Nagano’s neon-lit vocals. ‘Pretty Girls’ is some parts electro-jazz, some parts 80’s Janet Jackson, whom Yukumi referenced as an influence for the album. Hollow drums and syrupy synths coat this song in sultriness while Nagano’s highlighted vocals make it throb.
Little Dragon brings in the upbeat movement of ‘Underbart’ right when you’re ready to sweat and succeed in their experimentation with club music more than the similarly quick ‘Klapp Klapp’. The anxious percussion backing the pained song equips this dancier track with Little Dragon’s signature down-tempo attitude. Proving they possess both the temperament for meticulous mechanical production as well as soul suitable for the emotional power inherent in R&B, Nagano harmonizes with the fluctuations of her own pitches on ‘Cat Rider’ as an “Mmm Mmm Mmm” appropriately whispers sass into this sultry slow jam. The forgettable ‘Paris’ slips by after the ‘Cat Rider’ induced coma with a simplistic set-up that can hardly tease a whiff of attention with French flirtations cooing in the conclusion.
The title track saunters in with a kitty-kat bounce in its jazzy snaps. Nagano’s high-pitched meows and streams of string accents stretch across the fittingly named track until the eerie ambience of ‘Only One’ shivers in. Faint steel drum sound lend an exotic, alien-esque tone as bubbling synths and funky beats climax into euro-house, making this track feel like a rave anthem on an underwater party planet. The synthesized harshness booming against Nagano’s detached chants in ‘Killing Me’ gradually leads us into the slower end of the album with a bass dragging static sound across the fleeing lyrics.
‘Pink Cloud’ billows into a Japanese string sprinkled slow-jam in a pop friendly flow before the album ends with ‘Let Go,’ the symphonic onion of noise layered with twinkling techno and R&B beats and as the journey of Nabuma Rubberband comes to an end, you find yourself sifting through shards of it, wondering how Little Dragon pieced it all together, and stumbling back to unravel the intricacies. The best part of this album is however, that it’s so clearly produced, you don’t have to be a theory pro -or ableton wizard to do so… 8/10