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 and the Dove don’t just rest on the strengths of their singles: Malin Dahlström’s vampy performance and the potent disco stomp of “The Drummer” are bettered by the jagged, staccato arrangement of opener “Tomorrow” and the impossibly deep bassline on “Someday.” It’s on “The Gentle Roar,” with a pounding rhythm section and multi-tracked vocals, and the relatively spare, ominous “Under the Bridges” that Niki and the Dove most explicitly channels the Knife, but the songs themselves are more than strong enough on their own merits to hold up to such lofty comparisons.
Dahlström and keyboardist Gustaf Karlöf may be fairly obvious with their points of reference (Dahlström’s timbre and phrasing make her sound like “Stand Back”-era Stevie Nicks on “In Our Ears” to the point of distraction), but there’s a subtle sophistication to the construction of their songs. From the ghostly, whispering vocal effects that haunt the verses of the standout “DJ, Ease My Mind” to the layering of a countermelody in the rhythm track of “Mother Protect,” there’s an attention to detail in how the elements of every track on Instinct have been painstakingly layered. Flourishes like the instrumental outro on “Last Night” and the shifting tempos of “The Fox” speak to the duo’s willingness to experiment with tone and rhythm in ways that are forward-thinking without being labored or self-indulgent. While this may be the norm among Swedish pop acts like Fever Ray and Amanda Mair, it’s still something that Niki and the Dove do exceptionally well, and it’s one of the key ways that the pair creates an intricate aesthetic that’s far more than just the sum of their easy-to-spot influences.