REVIEW: Niki & The Dove - Instinct

Going into Sub Pop’s diminutive Mega Mart in downtown Seattle in the late-Nineties you would see racks full of rapidly aging grunge CDs, and the stench of a media-created “scene” long since dead. There were only a few records, such as Codeine, with music beyond Sub Pop’s core-competency. Rock n’ roll played at maximum volume, if not a maximum speed.

Things changed dramatically after one of its co-founders retired. Sub Pop started signing artists like Iron and Wine, the Postal Service, and, as of late, Beach House and Washed Out. This reinvention has (for the most part) been a strong economic and artistic achievement.

But where does Sweden’s Niki & the Dove, one of Sub Pop newest acts, fit into the story? Niki & the Dove’s Instinct deals in a retro mish-mash of worn out sounds, which are slightly warmed up by Malin’s cutesy and earnest vocals. Just don’t pay attention to closely to the lyrics. Apparently, having sex with someone in a back seat of a car is tantamount to marriage in “Last Night,” and the singer not only falls in love with someone on the first sign, but wants to hold him or her close in “Love to the Test.” That’s adorable! Or maybe just juvenile.

The musical canvas for Malin’s primary color vocals is full of Eighties demo-mode sounds that don’t even begin to mask the weak and unsubtle songwriting. Nothing on Instinct is really danceable. You only get big but limp “hooks,” devoid of even Top-40’s ability to at least stick lousy, cheap melodies in your head.

That being said, there are a few good songs buried beneath all of this hipster posturing. “DJ, Ease My Mind” would make Morrissey weep, but it’s good enough to download for 99 cents. “Tomorrow” is undoubtedly the highlight of Instinct, even though its merely a combination of the The Knife and Kate Bush.

But these okay tracks don’t hide a musical truism well known throughout the ages: no good can come out a fucking synth flute solo, and any record with one, such as Instinct’s “Mother Protection,” is inherently bad. Despite this, I expect every boutique in Soho and the Mission selling taxidermy and Navajo prints will be playing this record to death.

Does releasing this music thirty years late make it sufficiently “underground” to justify slapping the label’s name on this retread? Does it become “artistic”? Do mullets or perms become beautiful merely because no one has been stupid enough to wear them in twenty years? Does a super ironic record cover (which recalls the Three Wolves t-shirt) make it cool? Someone seems to think so.

Electronic music needs no champions in 2012. Musicians from Gary Numan, New Order, DJ Shadow, Annie to Ladytron have proved that synths can sounds just as “human” as a few dudes with guitars and drums. But these are interesting artists, who either write compelling songs or create new soundscapes.

Sub Pop has proven that it can transcend its grunge past. But Niki & the Dove proves that not every retro trend should be unearthed. This needs quick stake to the heart before someone starts at Starship tribute band.