We don’t understand why, but there’s no doubt that mid-’90s, female, vocal-led electronica is edging back into earshot. It’s been finding favour with artists as diverse as synth-goth popster Jess Mills and Rinse DJ/producer Brackles, and is a sound haunted by Goldie’s Timeless, now 16 years old. Sure, the contemporary acts build post-house/dubstep – rather than drum ’n’ bass – beds for their wafty female vocals, but the conceptual familiarity still makes our ears glaze over.
Hurrah, then, for Sweden’s Little Dragon, who are fresher than a pine-scented first edition, despite being an electronic act with a female vocalist and on their third album. It’s not that they have no reference points (impossible), rather that they’re not enslaved by them. And if LD use a well-known sound – say, the half-step wobble – they create it in their own way, with a synth, rather than beats.
‘Ritual Union’ taps electronica, disco house, electro, futuro-bass, fidget house and digital funk (LD are pretty funky when they get down to it), but their assured, quicksilver touch means patterning is avoided. Parts of this record could fire up a Thursday night at FWD>>, no problem, some threaten to outgroove Prince, others skitter along like Juana Molina or follow Murcof’s cosmic trail. The focus of its darkly glittering, dance-pop world is Yukimi Nagano’s tenderly soulful voice, which summons both the euphoria of the club floor and small-hours solitude. No wonder this woman is so much in demand – she sings like a troubled angel in thrall to the glitter ball. LD’s is a blindingly seductive package, full of sonic invention and conceptual possibility. They’ve yet to put a foot wrong.