Release Date: Aug 7, 2012
Record label: Sub Pop
Niki and The Dove’s ambitious pop thrives on the pair’s ability to sell love as an all-consuming force. They’re well equipped for the task, borrowing doses of creep from fellow Swedish electro-weirdos The Knife, and snatching retro synths and irresistible hooks from Madonna and Fleetwood Mac alike. The result is a collection of 14 songs that split the difference between head rush and heartache.
The singles Niki and the Dove released before their debut album Instinct hinted at a wide range: "DJ, Ease My Mind" offered state-of-the-art Swedish pop with a Knife-like edge, while "The Fox," with its lunging, predatory cello loop, explored much darker territory. Malin Dahlström and Gustaf Karlöf live up to the promise of those singles on these songs, bridging the gaps between them and taking their sound to further extremes along the way. At first, the balance between their sweetness and light and their gothier side can seem more like a tug of war: the shift from "Last Night"'s sing-song melody and "Somebody"'s wall-to-wall synths to "Winterheart"'s bleak balladry is initially jarring.
That Niki and the Dove’s debut, Instinct, is so consistently captivating is a testament to the masterful ways the duo employs all of the trademark elements of contemporary Swedish pop, including indelible melodies, chilly atmospheric flourishes, and a moody POV. Instinct occasionally casts Niki and the Dove as a training-wheels version of the Knife, but while they may share the new wave-inspired arrangements of the Knife’s early work, they trade that group’s macabre narratives for Stevie Nicks-style mysticism. Most of the songs on Instinct are culled from the promotional EPs for the single “The Fox” and “The Drummer,” but it’s a credit to both the record’s thoughtful sequencing and the quality of the set’s new material that the whole album still sounds fresh.
Niki & The Dove pose a strong argument for living life as fantastically as possible. The Scandinavian duo (vocalist Malin Dahlström and keyboardist Gustaf Karlöf) favor big choruses and even bigger sentiments—peppering their theatrical synth pop with talk of life, death, and love at its most extreme. As a result, the band's debut album Instinct feels like the result of years of studying at the feet of the material girl herself, marinated in the melancholy of their native Sweden.
Spirit animals bound, prowl and pounce through Niki And The Dove’s debut. Also hurricanes, crystals and visions. Our Swedish duo can pump out all the dry ice they want and singer Malin Dahlström can streak her cheeks like Stevie Nicks on the trapeze, but they can’t disguise themselves: no animist shamans these, but precise technicians. They’ve worked out the perfect balance of elements to induce that almost painful rush of euphoria when your brain is startled by a sudden chord and drops every hormone it has into your bloodstream.
It's a universal pop truth that songs about the thrill of the club rarely live up to the urgent abandon induced by a night's hard dancing. Two years ago, Swedish duo Niki and the Dove-- aka Malin Dahlström and Gustaf Karlöf-- struck a rare and peculiar seam with the release of their debut single, "DJ, Ease My Mind", on British indie label Moshi Moshi. Over militaristic clattering drums and swathes of pristine synthesizers (think the Knife's precision blown up to Eurovision Song Contest size), Dahlström pleads, "I want to forget, I want lights to blind me...
If pop songwriters tend to cram meandering stories of cheap nights and brief encounters into three minute bursts, then Niki and the Dove write the headlines in glitter-ink. With grand musical gestures that calmly capture explosive moments without getting caught up in the details, the Swedes make elusive, epiphanic dance-pop, which explores a fecund topography like a child investigating her dearest fairytale. The music they make is frequently stunning.
It’s difficult to criticize a band that consciously embraces and makes a virtue of what one might ordinarily focus on to disparage. Such is the predicament offered by Niki and the Dove, a group that is so unapologetic in its renaissance of kitsch that it meets its would-be detractors head-on, undercutting any affront before they have the opportunity to arrive. The group is so totally free of irony in their appreciation of and embellishment of schlock that reproaching them for it amounts to an example of missing the point entirely.
Though hip-hop has been on to her for years, it is perhaps one of the more surprising twists of recent electro-pop that Enya's ethereal synths have become the sound to aspire to. The debut album from Swedish duo Niki & the Dove follows Grimes in piling on the atmospheric layers, though its references to cats, witches and magic are less evocative of Grimes' eight-day speed bender than they are of a trip to Stonehenge at summer solstice. For all of its wafty strangeness, Instinct is mostly grounded in a straightforward pop sensibility, borrowing postures from Fleetwood Mac (In Our Eyes), Prince (Somebody) and Hazell Dean (Winterheart).
Swedish band Little Dragon released a subtle and joyous dance-pop album last year that deserved to be a huge hit. Regrettably, it wasn't. You can't help but feel that history might repeat itself here. Instinct is the engrossing debut by Swedish duo Niki and the Dove, full of big drums, burbling electronics and the kind of vocal abandon (from Malin Dahlström) that ping-pongs between Kate Bush and Stevie Nicks.
Once in a while, a song comes along that elicits an entirely positive response of: “What the hell did I just hear?” Niki and the Dove’s “The Fox” is such a number. Overwhelmingly lustrous and theatrical, the track exists in a world where Cyndi Lauper and Kate Bush board a stuttering jalopy to go on a reckless drive throughout the 80s, honking past Prince and The Cure on the way to Post-punk Alley. On paper, “The Fox” sounds like a mess, but the reality is flawless in execution, and its existence is enough to establish Niki and the Dove as the latest enforcers of Sweden’s dominance in the world of inventive, electronic pop.
The Swedish pop duo delivers one of the essential debuts of the year so far. Tom Hocknell 2012 Niki and the Dove’s debut album is one of the first long players out of the BBC Sound of 2012 traps, following Michael Kiwanuka’s Home Again set. But thankfully this collection is no rush job. Having justified their Sound of...