Niki and the Dove - Instinct (Mercury Records)
May 14, 2012
Scandinavia is one of those special places when it comes to musical folklore. Much like the highlands of Scotland or the suburbs of Detroit, it's a place which seems to be home to so many people who are clearly gifted in the art of storytelling. Niki & the Dove can now step forward and join that proud lineage with an album that easily exceeds its early promise.
Let's start at the beginning. 'Tomorrow' is the best opening track of the year so far. It may be simple in structure compared to some other tracks on the albums, but its straightforward verse/epic chorus/verse/epic chorus structure strikes at the heart, and the vocal chords.
Its successor 'The Drummer' just missed out on the writers' Motelvision Song Contest shortlist last year and it's probably the second worst decision I made in Motel history after an embarrassing about-turn on the matter of the Klaxons three years ago. Its stuttery synths and depth charges are more suited to 'arms aloft in a heaving basement at 1am' than 'Tomorrow's 'arms aloft in an open field as the sun comes down' vibe. However, it clearly stands up in quality. Its middle eight, building from hushed, cautious vocals and minimal backing to glitchy euphoria is truly divine.
Like any debut record that wants to be taken seriously, Instinct takes a few plays to really appreciate on all levels. Sure enough, it's the big set-piece, radio-friendly pop numbers that have the biggest impact. 'Somebody's sugar-sweet optimism is a natural mood enhancer, while 'DJ, Ease My Mind' is one of those truly special songs that deserves to be soundtracking the BBC's next drama showreel advert (yep, the ones that launched songs by Arcade Fire and Mumford & Sons into the nation's conscience). The kick in the guts you get from the chorus at 2'49" is sensational.
But what sets Niki and the Dove out from others in the same bit of the gen(r)e pool is the diversity of mood and song structure on offer. For every sky-scraping, arms-aloft, instantly catchy anthem like 'Tomorrow' or 'The Drummer', there's a moment of hushed, mysterious contemplation such as 'The Fox' or the reflective, confessional stylings of 'Love to the Test' that set Niki & the Dove ahead of their more one-dimensional contemporaries. These are tracks that slowly grow with repeated plays - particularly the latter, as Malin Dahlströhm's distinctive diction and eloquent lyrics charting the iron grip of love at first sight pair beautifully.
Instinct has a natural swagger throughout, and it's a debut that the band should feel proud of. It would have been all too easy to concentrate on the big floor-fillers and play it safe, but the frequent diversions into more leftfield territory (best exemplified by 'The Fox's frenzied vocal turns and chugging bass riff) mean that this is among the best pop debuts of the last few years.
words and pictures: Kate Goodacre
Niki & the Dove perform at XOYO in London on Wednesday, May 16 and at Liverpool Sound City on Saturday, May 19.