In 2002, Swedish duo Koop released the single “Summer Sun,” a groovy appropriation of ’50s American lounge jazz featuring a female vocal that could have been sampled wholesale from a dusty old hi-fi record. The voice happened to come from precocious 15-year-old Gothenburg resident Yukimi Nagano. Five years later, she started a band called Little Dragon, which creates a similar masquerade of recent American R&B. Over three albums and a few solid collaborations (two spots on Gorillaz’s Plastic Beach, and this year’s SBTRKT track “Wildfire”), Little Dragon has specialized in killer singles (like 2009’s “My Step”) surrounded by faithful, well-executed takes on modern dance pop.
Nagano has a flexible voice and charisma to spare, and it’s the rightful centerpiece of Ritual Union. The band adapts its magpie sensibility to the ultra-hip realm of UK bass music, stirring in a few left turns and occasionally hitting on something great. Along with Gang Gang Dance’s Lizzie Bougatsos, Nagano is indie-dance’s most alluring snake-charmer, and on the propulsive title track and the deep groove “Precious,” Nagano’s lemony upper-register warble cuts sharply against the rubbery low-end. If her voice wasn’t made to do the heavy lifting on Ritual—when she shoots heavenward on the chorus of “Please Turn,” the band continues unbothered—the album could slide into Robyn territory. Ritual Union is almost there, content to split the difference between genre pieces and potential pop hits.