Album Review: Little Dragon – Ritual Union

little dragon ritual union

It’s strange, sometimes my favourite music is the kind of music I can’t entirely wrap my head around. I don’t get it, nor do I feel like trying to. I just want to let it play at me, around me, on me, in me. The music might even be more important than the lyrics, sometimes. It’s the way it makes me feel. It’s like if someone was to crack open my head and see the inside thoughts and feelings as albums, what would they be?

Little Dragon’s minimal electro-soul album Ritual Union has joined this realm of music for me. I’ve been listening to it non-stop for weeks, and each time I get something new out of it. I’m starting to figure it out, but at first I just wanted it to grace my ears. I wanted to keep getting that feeling of exhilaration that an album hasn’t really given me this year yet because it’s just so good. Now when I listen, it makes me dance or tap my fingers on my purse or leg as I walk. It makes me think. It keeps me coming back. It does what it should.

So what is it about Ritual Union that I respond to?

The synths and percussion pairing

One cannot be without the other on Ritual Union. There are so many exciting layers. They’ll hit you in the face or you won’t even notice until a few listens in. They fit so effortlessly together, even though they could be moving at different beats and frequencies. But they’re not trying to be puzzle pieces and fit crevice to crevice. This is a stacked, 3D puzzle with a mind of its own, and your mind will be all “this works!” It’s hypnotizing.

Examples: “Ritual Union,” “Shuffle a Dream,” “Nightlight,” “Precious”

Yukimi Nagano’s voice

Woaaaah, soul! First off, you wouldn’t be able to tell girl’s from Sweden but doesn’t that make it so much sweeter knowing it? She shows control but passion, from starting us off a little on the vulnerable side in “Ritual Union” (and again in “Please Turn” as she wails ‘please! pull the string now! turn the winds all round and round!’) to coming into this vortex of confidence and attitude in “Brush the Heat” and “Precious” to reigning over mystery in “Nightlight.” She’s an incredible vocalist, with soul, R&B and pop tones. And it’s not just the instruments that are layered, she gets that treatment too.

The lyrics

Ritual Unions have got me in trouble again / I was wonderin’ how the white dress and the mistress and the spirit are holding my hand

There’s something missing in your smile / there’s something missing in your soul / are you suffering the blues? / Tell me why, tell me when, tell me why, when

I’m giving in to the rhythm on my feet / brush the heat

I fly like a heroine

Just some phrases I have caught and loved. From catching pieces of what Yukimi is singing, I’m intrigued to find out what they are. What I have heard (not just what’s here as an example) is enlightening and simply poetic.


Ritual Union is an album to me that just completely works. It knows itself and what it’s going for, and I just need to sit here and enjoy it. Every spark that the Little Dragons bring to their flame feels like it was well thought out in the process of their time together, but there are definitely fun moments that feel like someone could have pressed a key or a button and realized that it worked. Ritual Union is a stroke of luck in that sense and that it’s coming to us.

Little Dragon was introduced to me through their Glastonbury set by a coworker. Then I heard “Nightlight” and was put under a spell. Then Ritual Union kicked me right in the chest and I’m still dizzy. It’s working its way up to be quite likely my #1 of 2011 so far, beating out two albums that I thought were pretty locked in.

PS – Read this explanation of every song by the band themselves, over on DIY.


RoundLetters’ picks for Best of 2011 so far

I’m going to be honest. 2011 has not been that great for music in my books thus far. I am still listening to a lot of 2010 favourites in my free time. I am constantly meh on most of these 2011 buzz bands my music writing colleagues, friends and the general public seem enamored with (which doesn’t play in my freelance music journalist favour). I’m simply waiting for music to knock me off my feet, bring tears to my eyes and make me exclaim about it to everyone I know. So far, there’s been a handful of that, and you know what, that’s good enough for such high standards, isn’t it?

Here are the albums that I’ve loved and really liked so far (not in too much of a particular order):

tune yards new album
tUnE-yArDs – Who Kill

I adore this woman. She is my hero in numerous ways, and this sophomore album was absolutely Killa.

Austra – Feel it Break

Everything just fits together so beautifully in ways you can’t completely figure out, it’s captivating.

Pat Jordache – Future Songs

I’m much more in tune to Jordache’s catchy musical quirks than his vocals, but I dig that too, especially when I thought I’d get annoyed with it and I haven’t. It’s an interesting full package.

Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for My Halo

So much emotion and yet not enough; can fit to numerous settings such as laying in the sun or even grieving.

Jeans Boots – txt msgs

Attitude and sensitivity in just the way I like it.

Miracle Fortress – Was I the Wave?

Adventurous, dreamy, every time I listen I feel like I’m listening to it for the first time.

The Albertans – New Age

They caught my attention earlier on this year as Canada’s answer to that Brooklyn indie sound; quirky, curious and soft.

Hooded Fang – Tosta Mista

This album isn’t out yet, but I have heard it and I’m convinced it’s my album of the summer. So much fun.

What I’ve liked:

Braids, Peter Elkas, Snowblink, Little Scream, Sin Fang, Slow Down, Molasses, Jenn Grant, Graham Wright

What I’m looking forward to getting into now (ones I just haven’t given enough time yet):

Handsome Furs, PJ Harvey, Young Galaxy, Rubik

Later this year:

Dog Day, St. Vincent, Elliott Brood, Little Dragon, Evening Hymns, Wild Flag

Here are the EPs I’ve loved:

beth ditto EP
Beth Ditto – Beth Ditto

This is a self-loving session wrapped into four songs, you’ll be left tired from dancing and feeling good about yourself. Glad to see Beth’s solo foray.


Nightbox – Nightbox

Punchy local indie rock shooting for the stars; have a song “Bears” I still can’t quit.

We Are the City – High School

Passionate indie pop from BC from guys who went through a lot and came out of it so much stronger.

Listen to tUnE-yArDs’ new single, “Bizness”

tune yards new album

I love tUnE-yArDs. Her 2nd album w h o k i l l will be released in April, and I really really can’t wait.

Yesterday, a British radio show got their paws on a song off the album, “Bizness,” and through the magic of the internet, you can hear it now. I definitely remember hearing Merrill play this song the last time she was in Toronto (by the way, one of the best shows I’ve ever seen).

So without further jabber, let’s just get to the song. LISTEN:

Read an interview I did with the lovely Merrill a year ago on what the new album would be like! Time travel!

tUnE-yArDs will be back May 12, I believe? You better be going.

UPDATE: You can now download “Bizness” here.

Enter to win tickets to see Flash Lightnin’ in Toronto on August 12!

Guess what? I’m excited. Why am I excited? Because RoundLetters has its first contest and it’s a good one!

Enter to win two tickets to see FLASH LIGHTNIN’, a rough and tumble rockin’ Toronto band, play their debut album release party at the Horseshoe Tavern on August 12! Support is by HURON and BIBLICAL. It’s going to be an awesome time.

All you have to do is *email saying you’d like to win the tickets* to be entered into the raffle.

The contest is officially over as of 11:59 PM, August 11.

When entering, please consider the fact that I will choose a winner Thursday morning and you’ll be coordinating the details with me via email.

The show is on August 12.

Good luck!

Exclusive Q&A: Bravestation

Bravestation’s release party for the 2010 EP is tonight at the El Mocambo as part of Two Way Monologues. Opening will be Retro Radio, Old World Vulture and Lovely Killbots. The Facebook invite has more details.

You can stream the 2010 EP in its entirety on Bravestation’s MySpace.

Sometimes when you hear music, you know automatically that you like it. Other times it takes a while to grow on you. Bravestation’s 2010 EP was the former for me. As soon as I started listening to them after receiving an email from the guitarist, Derek Wilson, I was hooked. I’m not sure what compelled me to be more interested in them than anyone else I get emails from (I’m getting to it, patience!), but the fact is it did and I’m glad. Plus, it just so happens that their main influences are some of my favourite artists, such as Foals. You can hear that almost immediately as well – but not in a copycat sort of way (*cough, Fleet Foxes, you are not My Morning Jacket, cough*), more like a really appreciative “this is what I’ve learned” kind of way.

It’s in Wilson’s guitars and Jeremy Rossetti’s drums, mainly, as they quickly flutter up and down (listen to “Colour Us with Youth”). The five song-long EP is an outstanding piece of work. Devin Wilson, the vocalist (and brother to Derek) has an interesting voice and is able to keep up with the quick jolts with his smooth melodies. Andrew Heppner’s synths and keyboards seem to be pretty influenced by the ‘80s, in fact I kind of felt like I was in the old Degrassi episodes for a bit (in a cool way, you know) but they evolve and flow in and out of the rest of the music. In these five songs, it’s hard not to want more from this relatively new Toronto band.

Usually new band EPs don’t sound this good, but these guys have all gone to recording school together. In fact, Bravestation started out as a school project. But as they become more dedicated to this as their collective passion, the value goes up. The 2010 EP is an impressive collection of dream-like reality under bright lights and darkness. As is swirls around you, try to stay stationary, but letting go every once in a while can always be beneficial. Bravestation provide a cool, refreshing sound for Toronto and because of it, they’re destined for great things.

Read on for Bravestation’s exclusive Q&A with RoundLetters on how they got started as a project, their live show struggles, the EP writing process and upcoming goals.

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Exclusive RoundLetters Q&A: Charlotte Cornfield

Catch the Charlotte Cornfield Band play tonight at the Cameron House at 9:30 for $7. Opening will be Bent by Elephants. (Read an interview and review of Bent by Elephants.)

My oh my, Charlotte Cornfield’s Collage Light EP is one of the best recorded pieces of work that I’ve heard in a while. So you’d understand my dismay to find out that it’s been around since 2009, thus a) you, I and everyone else who is only just catching on need a bit of a smack and b) this means it can’t be on my Top 2010 list. But, ah, let’s just think of the positives today.

Cornfield, the 21-year-old singer-songwriter based in Montreal, has made a wonderful EP about failed romance and independence. The seven songs are a perfect balance of dark and light, slow and fast, solo and collaborative. She’s got a bit of that descriptive Canadian rock twang, I think of Sam Roberts at points, and her voice is not like anyone else’s. (It makes me proud to know that Canada produces such amazing female voices.) Cornfield has a full backing band on this album, and she also brings them on tour. Together they are the Charlotte Cornfield Band. Cornfield also plays drums in one of my favourite bands, Bent by Elephants, in which you can see her move with the percussion, letting her lankiness benefit and roll out of her in the beats, a very catching sight. Besides that, she drums in the all female jazz quartet, Takk, which will play in Toronto next week, July 22, at the Trane Studio. It’s safe to say that this lady is impressive.

Collage Light, her second EP, details a romance or two very openly. The descriptions are poetic with just a hint of mystery and a lot of heartbreak. Though exposing her vulnerability, her confidence shines through in the way she performs. Her voice is completely aligned with her guitar, so much so that she considers them one instrument. She can push her voice into high and low places, or lengthen or quicken syllables however she pleases. Her songs are in simple structures, but it’s more so what she’s saying (she really has established herself as great lyricist) and how the band produces the surrounding sound.

Read on to find out how she manages everything, what’s coming up (perhaps a duo team with friend Leif Vollebekk), her upcoming album, and so much more.

Here is the exclusive RoundLetters interview with Charlotte Cornfield.

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Download of the Week: Stars – “We Don’t Want Your Body (Tom McFall remix)”

I’ve recently started a column with AUX — an indie music digital cable television channel — about an exclusive song a week for you to download. So check back every week for something awesome to put into your music player!

This week, it’s a remix of Stars‘ new single, “We Don’t Want Your Body” by producer Tom McFall. It’s a pretty sweet remix.

Read more and download the song on!