When Niki & The Dove emerged in 2011, sequins and tassels sparkling and swaying under a full moon, it seemed like a natural dovetailing of unflinching Fleetwood Mac nostalgia and the ubiquitousness of gap-year soundtrackers like MGMT and Empire Of The Sun. Malin Dahlström’s vocals channeled Stevie Nicks like a seance for a living legend, as though Nicks were astral projecting to a higher electronic pop plane (Sweden).
The palette Niki & The Dove were playing with put them in danger of disappearing into the synthesized thickets, but they remained in the public consciousness thanks to a Skrillex remix and Alex Metric and Jacques Lu Cont enlisting Dahlström for Safe With You, a massive banger that sounded like their debut if it took place at poppers o’clock instead of the witching hour. The lyrics bore Niki & The Dove’s mark of fatalistic romance (“you and I were born under the same sign / it’s a silent promise”), and Dahlström’s distinctive voice was unmistakeable. In itself, it was a promise that Niki & The Dove wasn’t a one-off sojourn destined to become myth, but rather the establishment of ritual. And, promise kept, Everybody’s Heart Is Broken Now is a strong return that should please fans and recruit new believers.
It’s a smoother follow-up, like a sunset melting into a mellow cocktail – the duo draw on many of the same influences as on their debut but opener So Much It Hurts directly references Prince, a primer for their new concoction (heady, but honeyed). Meta intertextuality continues with Play It On My Radio, a gentle hymn for nostalgia and a soft plea for a comforting song gone missing from the airwaves. It’s an apt request, because so much of the album comes off as an assemblage of forgotten songs built from fragments of memories. Synth lines and melodies appear from the mist, instantly familiar but born anew – Play It recalls Kate Bush’s Deeper Understanding but seeks refuge in yesterday’s radio where Bush looked ahead at tomorrow’s digital world.
It’s this palpable yearning for memories attached to specific sounds that helps keep Niki & The Dove afloat on an album that could otherwise be accused of drowning in a sea of pastiche. “High on your love / high on the music / high on the sunset,” sings Dahlström on Miami Beach, one of many clear indications that Niki & The Dove mine the ’80s out of giddy reverence – this is a genuine emotional communion led by those aesthetics rather than a cynical shot at an easy hit. Much as Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion succeeds as a collage of misplaced ’80s nostalgia because it balances the youthful naivety of exuberant period pop with a knowing wistfulness, this feels justified in looking back because of a core desire to recapture past loves born from these sounds. Moreover, the focus isn’t so singular as to disallow digression, as on Brand New, where a rapid-trickle piano line is joined by microbeats before accommodating the album’s usual swelling synths.
If it limps towards the finish line after a long hour, the album at least goes out with a ridiculous bang that typifies its underlying melodrama. Ode To The Dancefloor has Dahlström left in the glow of someone who can “shine like lasers”, asking “what good is forever if I can’t have you?” It’s a bittersweet end to an album obsessed with lost hearts and sounds, a declaration that it’s possible for both to shine loudly enough that the lingering afterglow can sustain us.
This emotionally messy heartbroken catharsis cloaked in controlled pop literacy places Niki & The Dove in that underrated set of acts whose strong understanding of the genre hide multitudes in the crevices of a record, and it’s an appropriate home for them. Everybody’s Heart Is Broken Now resolutely clings to the idea that faded memories can be given vibrant colour through song and that music preserves inner tempests and dreamed oases in amber – and for the most part it succeeds as evidence of that.