Niki & the Dove's name might reference a bird, but the animal that was undoubtedly most crucial to the creation of Malin Dahlström and Gustaf Karlöf's Stockholm-based band is the horse--or, more specifically, four of them. Sometime around 2009, Dahlström had a vision involving "four galloping horses tied to a carriage that I was trying to steer." This inspired her to write "DJ, Ease My Mind," which includes the lines "A foreign hand and runaway horses/Restless doubt heart/In a vision/I did not see/See it coming." On one level, the song is an appeal to exhilarating indulgence: Keep spinning good records loud, and keep those blinding lights blinding. On another, it's an immensely sad tune about finding peace in nostalgia: "Play that song again/'Cause we were in love/Before, before the rain began."
"The song is about a person who is going through changes in her life--maybe something that she isn't in control of," Dahlström says. "She needs to hear a certain song again that will take her back in time and to a certain state, so that she can also understand her future."
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As it stands now, "DJ, Ease My Mind" is a dazzling, gloomy, finely defined slice of electropop, but it wasn't all Dahlström's doing. After writing the tune, she asked Karlöf to produce it with her. The pair met in Gothenburg in 1999 as part of a large, fluid, musical collective. "['DJ, Ease My Mind'] was a very strong melody, and the song was really strong in itself from the beginning," Karlöf says. "I felt very flattered that she asked me." The duo temporarily enlisted another producer to complete the recording, and then moved on to penning originals together, which led to the formal inception of Niki & the Dove--an enigmatic alias they have yet to explain.
"DJ, Ease My Mind" has been in the wild since early 2010, but it finally makes an album appearance on Instinct, Niki & the Dove's debut record. (Sub Pop Records orchestrated the American release last August.) Much like the conflicted spirit of "DJ, Ease My Mind," Instinct seesaws between darkness and light. In a 2011 interview with Britain's music newspaper The Stool Pigeon, Karlöf said of the album, "One [side] is quite dark and big, and the other is more romantic, smaller stories and smaller sounds." As he clari-fies that comment now, Karlöf notes the divide's creation wasn't purposeful (he noticed it once the record was finished), and it isn't one beholden to a black-and-white sensibility (the track listing mixes songs of both stripes). For examples, he points to "DJ, Ease My Mind" and "Mother Protect" as bleaker songs, and "Tomorrow" and "Somebody" as more upbeat and energetic. The contrast works well when you consider the dramatic qualities of Niki & the Dove's music and videos. They're a band who take pleasure in making big (but not overblown) expressions.
They're also devout believers in the power of pop music--a style they have tackled in other projects--and are more than comfortable about being given the tag. "If people want to call this a pop band, no one is happier than we are. We love pop music, and our aim is to make good pop songs. That was the aim from the beginning," Karlöf says. "For the first time, we feel the power and the respect for the pop song as an artwork."