Artist: I Break Horses
Record Label: Bella Union
Imagine if you will, a sporting event captured in slow motion, be it a last gasp cup winning goal, a photo finish at the Olympics or a multi-car pile-up during NASCAR, such a visual feast will need the appropriate soundtrack. Sonically something epic would have to fit the bill, a soundbite that would bring such a spectacle to life. The aural hum of I Break Horses’ sophomore LP, Chiaroscuro, could be the musical treatment to accompany such events. In its own understated fashion there’s a subtle, grand nature to the Swedish duo’s latest endeavours, be it the gentle whir of synths, the varied speed of beats or the ghostly vocals of Maria Linden; all the components that gather to create Chiaroscuro point to an album built on ambitious foundations but with modest values.
The beauty of Chiaroscuro – the Italian for “light-dark” – is the album’s inventiveness and how the record takes you on a journey. ‘Medicine Brush’ commences with the sound of a digital storm, it’s the hubbub of synth lightning strikes coupled with electronic thunder rumbles that invoke some kind of Tron-esque netherworld. Linden’s endeavours into digital realms are realised with the ambitious sounding ‘Disclosure’, here you’ll find what sounds like an electrified elastic band being twanged while skittering beats morph and reform like a synth inspired lava lamp. ‘Weigh True Words’ adopts future-retro tribal drumming coupled with digitally enhanced hand-claps and the vocals of Linden being sliced and diced, as if wrapping your ears around a distorted answering machine message from another dimension.
The pair’s second outing only stutters on the odd occasion, with ‘Denial’s 80’s indebted, soft focus synth episode. I Break Horses fall into the trap of electronic music sounding dated and derivative with a track lacking in assertiveness. The same mistake is repeated during ‘Ascension’s smooth waft through 80’s style electronics. Although Chiaroscuro is manifested around ever changing digital soundscapes and the almost non-existent vocals of Linden, the latter plays a bit part to the whole package. As with most electronic music, the vocals are tempered by the washes of synths and beats and Linden’s spectral trill almost evaporates at the point of dispensing with her words, meaning engaging with her lyrics is an inevitable non-event. Luckily, the future-retro electronics make up for the lack of vocal punch.
I Break Horses have forged a record of imagination and low-key charm that on the odd occasion slips into past decades pastiche. No need to reach for the Filofax and giant mobile phone just yet, Chiaroscuro has only a touch of 80’s cliché – Mullets not included.
Words and Thoughts of Adam Williams