Superbly bright modern pop arrangements, highlighted by neon lamplight.
Mike Diver 2011-10-28
Stockholm’s Niki and the Dove follow in the band-name footsteps of Esben and the Witch, where there’s neither a Niki (an Esben) nor a Dove (Witch) in the outfit’s line-up. Like the Brighton-based gloom-scapers, the Swedes recall recognisable strands of retro electronica; but rather than paint in shades born of ground-up forest-floor detritus and seaside flotsam to convey weighty emotion, this lot dazzle with superbly bright arrangements, highlighted by neon lamplight. Songs leap out of the speakers like chocolate-loaded Oompa-Loompas sporting Prince masks while carrying Robyn’s latest 12" of remixes under their arms. It doesn’t take too long for The Drummer EP (seven tracks, three of which are interlude-style shorties) to leave an impression – there’s evidently a reason this lot are being tipped for success in 2012.
At least, that Purple-One-turns-Fembot parallel holds for the opener, the excellent title-track. It fizzes and pulses, eventually bursting into the sort of chorus – "I’m a drum, I’m a drum now / It’s what makes me human," singer Malin Dahlström informs us – that can set the nerve endings electric in a corpse. It’s modern pop done perfectly, shiny enough to subvert the apparent heartache at its centre into a voicing of passionate independence. The duo – completed by Gustaf Karlöf, the act’s songwriter – changes their spots somewhat for the following Last Night. A delightful mid-pace ballad with awesomely eerie undercurrents, it’s something like Fever Ray taping over a bunch of T’Pau cassettes while fellow Swedes Little Dragon look on with envious eyes. Then Mother Protect opens like Post-period Björk taking five in a dojo, shadows altering attack stances all around her – until, that is, Dahlström pulls out a Kate Bush-worthy vocal at around the three-minute mark that sucks the air from the rest of the track like a black hole of irresistible brilliance.
Manon sounds like something of an afterthought compared to the preceding cuts, under-developed when placed beside the fuller-feeling arrangements of The Drummer EP. Its percussion sits low in the mix, Dahlström taking centre stage with a powerful yet supple performance; again, there’s something of the Far East in the embellishments, the oriental twinkles at the peripheries of the piece. But its presence is welcomed, presenting a softer side of the act which bodes well for variety come their debut album. The breakout pop act of 2012? They’re maybe a little too esoteric for that, and will need to find their own clear identity among the many influences they channel so well. But critics are likely to love a Niki and the Dove long-player like it’s another Sign o’ the Times.