An incredibly unprecedented but refreshing shift in focus by one of Sweden's best.
You could make a fair argument that the Swedish electro-pop trend faded away with the Knife’s breakup in 2014. Although correlation is definitely not causation, all the local scenesters who lifted plenty of elements from the synth-pioneers stayed pretty quiet last year, with the most notable synthpop records from the region -- Kate Boy’s One, Tove Stryke’s Kiddo, Say Lou Lou’s Lucid Dreaming -- being relatively slept on.
Thus, it is somewhat fitting that Niki and the Dove, the Swedish duo responsible for one of the most essential albums in that realm (2012's Instinct), have left everything behind with their sophomore release. Gone are the big gushing synths and mechanically explosive choruses. Instead, we have a collection of songs that are far more indebted to a different side of early '80s music -- the era where the disco craze was transitioning into new wave, where Nile Rodgers was producing albums for Diana Ross and Debbie Harry. It is, as they sing on the perhaps subliminally self-referential "Play It on My Radio", a song that “nobody plays anymore…they don’t know what they’re missing.” The fresh new look is executed well enough to give Everybody’s Heart Is Broken Now enough merit to prosper on that basis alone, but frontwoman Malin Dahlström’s continued capacity to deliver big songs and jaw-dropping vocal performances makes this record so much more than a mere reinvention.
Another big step in the right direction is the rejection of abstract, daunting subject matter (pretty much every chorus on Instinct was an elegantly crafted but melodramatic and deeply figurative declaration) for something a lot more human. This album doesn’t put you in some glitzy fantasy world; it hits some of the more primal nerves in the romantic spectrum. Niki and the Dove waste no time getting to this.
"So Much It Hurts" takes on the most simplistic but jarring form of heartbreak -- waiting by the phone but hearing nothing, going out dancing by yourself, not knowing why your lover is always coming home late -- and bundles it up into one cathartic whirlwind: “Bring it back! I need your love so much it hurts!”. It’s a gorgeous opening to the album, a perfect balance of the newfound attraction to lush R&B and the big hook potential of Dahlström’s flinty, seductive howl. "You Stole My Heart Away" is centered around similar sentiments and warm atmospherics. However, the tempo is nudged up and the tone is left a bit more minor, as Dahlström declares the even more dismal, “oh, you took the love I gave and left me hollow as an empty shell.”
"Scar for Love" is a bit of a return to form with big room synths and steady beats galore, taking the pain to a much more literal level with shrill imagery like “draw it deep/do not stop until we bleed/we mark each other’s hearts with a scar for love.” On "Lost UB", she is visiting an old house filled with memories but finds herself collapsing at how empty everything feels. The sorrow starts to “dig a hole” in her, a drastic situation that is convincingly captured. So yeah, if the title didn’t make it obvious enough, this is a heartbreak album, but it’s not the type that wallows in its self-pity. Rather, it presents the pain as if it is fact, hiding from nothing but stiffly dancing away from every scent of torment in desperate hope of revitalization. It’s an album that embraces the truth; love is grand enough to defy all rationality.
The lyrics are one thing, but Instinct was made essential by its adventurous and versatile auras. Everybody’s Heart is no different. Sure, they have removed their head from the clouds, but the album goes in a multitude of directions that you’d never expect, even once you get past the major switch-up that is this record’s cumulative approach.
There are very obvious hints of tropical electronica seeping their way into this record on tracks like "Shark City" and "Coconut Kiss", which feel a lot more silly and plastic than the rest of the album, but are still super fun, especially when the latter takes on something of a reggae punch. "Everybody Wants to Be You" is the closest Niki and the Dove have gotten to a conventional ballad, with a topic as theatrical as it needs to be as Dahlström grasps at ambitious ways to express the idolization of someone (“You hold the secret everybody wants to own/they need it, they ask you what you smoke/they wanna smoke it, cause they’re desperate.”) Nevertheless, the most striking sonic departure here has got to be "Brand New", a track where starry, frantic synths and rushed piano collide to form a constantly peaking fit of charisma, one where all Dahlström can do is shriek and squeal.
This album is an incredibly unprecedented but refreshing shift in focus after negating the responsibility to carry the Scandinavian synthpop touch, moving on in a way that is elegant, more purposeful, and smarter, even though it might be less bombastic and more long-winded. However, as Everybody’s Heart bleeds into the night, the trade off reveals itself to be more than fair.