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Instinct ()

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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. After a few listens, however, these changes feel natural and yes, even instinctive. It helps that Niki and the Dove lead their listeners into the more mystical side of their sound gradually through the album like a trail of breadcrumbs: on "The Drummer," the booming backing vocal that rises behind Dahlström like the spirit of drumming itself suggests that Instinct is from a world where sacred rites are performed in the club, and dance parties are thrown in the woods; "In Our Eyes" is half brilliant pop song, half invocation of a storm. The duo embraces the pagan side of Scandinavian pop on "Gentle Roar," where Dahlström whispers "I'm waking the witch and I'm moving like a cat," and on "Mother Protect," where she sings "I am furious/fear the lioness/paint your face black and golden" with a Björk-like crow to her voice. Within the context of these songs, it's easier to hear the spiritual, even supernatural leanings on "DJ, Ease My Mind" and "The Fox"'s sparkling hooks. Along with Björk, Kate Bush is a spiritual fairy godmother to Niki and the Dove, particularly on "Tomorrow," where Dahlström's vocals evoke a similar ethereal passion -- but then again, the playful "Love to the Test" sparkles like a prime Stock Aiken Waterman production, and shows that Dahlström and Karlöf think that falling in love is just as magical as waking a witch. Instinct is a vivid and varied debut, and ultimately a more rewarding listen than if Niki and the Dove had just explored one facet of their sound. If they have this kind of scope the first time out, then where their instincts take them next will be exciting indeed. [The U.S. release of Instinct added two bonus tracks, "The Beach" and "All This Youth."] ~ Heather Phares, Rovi Hide synopsis

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