Swedish electronic artists are notorious for subverting their country’s pristine musical landscape, whether it’s Bloodshy & Avant’s sinister production, The Knife’s macabre atmospheres, Robyn’s flamboyant pop, or Icona Pop’s chirpy dance tunes. With its 2011 debut EP, The Drummer, Stockholm’s Niki & The Dove joined the ranks of these rebellious musicians. And like those acts, the electro-pop duo isn’t afraid to detonate pop music’s constructs: On its first full-length, Instinct, vocalist Malin Dahlström—a dead ringer for Stevie Nicks—coos, wails, and rasps over herky-jerky rhythms and Gustaf Karlöf’s blocky keyboard spurts.
The results can be bewitching. “The Fox,” with its layers of stuttering beats, parade-jaunty synths, and Cure-esque post-punk foundation, is hypnotic. So is the ominous “The Gentle Roar,” on which Dahlström’s exaggerated stage whispers add intrigue and drama to popping-bubble beats and spare tribal thumps. But while endearing in small doses, this relentless syncopation makes Instinct a disjointed listening experience. By emphasizing texture instead of structure, the album loses any sense of cohesion.
The presence of a few clunky ballads—including the Gwen Stefani-inspired sapfest “Love To The Test” and the dub-influenced “Winterheart”—also derails Instinct’s flow. In fact, Niki & the Dove’s music is most engaging when it’s not shying away from convention. Well-defined hooks and consistent, pulsating rhythms sustain Instinct’s best songs: the disco-pop swirl of “The Drummer,” the woozy R&B jam “Last Night,” and the industrial-tinged warrior cry “DJ, Ease My Mind.” And both “The Beach” and “Under The Bridges” sound like lost Stevie Nicks radio hits from the early ’80s, thanks to gooey keyboards and Dahlström’s sweetheart vocals. Unfortunately, though, while Instinct’s creativity and sense of adventure are to be commended, the album never builds any real momentum.