WHEN AN ACT PREVIOUSLY SHROUDED in mystery suddenly make a move for transparency it can be disconcerting. What if all that lies behind the curtain is a rather bored-looking socialite with strangely pouty lips or an old German guy in PVC trousers? Happily, Little Dragon’s fourth album striptease is not so cynical or dramatic as Lana Del Rey’s or Milli Vanilli’s.
“After hanging out on the tasteful fringes they’re ready to come into the centre.”
On Nabuma Rubberband the Swedish quartet dig a road close to where the Cocteau Twins were with the mist-clearing Heaven Or Las Vegas: the place where otherworldly naïve-melody architects gently fall to earth. “You’re going to make me put my fist through this mirror,” sings Yukimi Nagano on opening track Mirror, a Pinteresque slow burner that paints a picture of a mildew-gathering relationship, cemented by a silence so toxic it ends in self harm. With a melody that recalls Janet Jackson’s Any Time Any Place, the tension is underscored by drummer Erik Bodin, whose beats replicate the excruciatingly slow tick-tock of a clock as you wait for something awful to happen. The song’s unhappy twin, Killing Me, comes later on. A gaunt, slightly sleazy glitter stomp, it contains the confrontational chorus: “I’ll take my rocket ship and get the hell out of this / You’re killing me.” Don’t send a postcard.
If these hard emotional terrains make a strong first impression, Nabuma Rubberband really hits its stride when the theme shifts to departures. Whether those are the drab suburban cardboard cut-outs in Underbart, the unsure, pilled-up LA wannabes in Pretty Girls, or Paris, the song which boards a plane to mourning over a Robyn-styled beat and stitches together the itinerary of a death (“Why is your answering machine still on? / It’s the oddest feeling since you’re gone”) with a biting emotional rawness rarely heard before in their catalogue.
What’s clear early on here is that the sound of Little Dragon sifting through the ambiguities of life has more impact than Little Dragon being ambiguous. One can only speculate what has caused the band to jump out of the shadows on Nabuma Rubberband. Perhaps it’s loosening the grip on their tightly controlled recording dynamic (Dave ‘Trugoy’ Jolicoeur from De La Soul co-wrote some lyrics on the album and an outside mastering engineer was used for the first time) or just a sense that, after hanging out on the tasteful fringes for years they are ready to come into the centre. No matter. In the end it seems that the clearing of the elliptical fog has produced the quartet’s most cohesive and rewarding album.