Sweden’s I Break Horses have been active since 2008, and in this relatively short time they’ve made a name for themselves by seamlessly connecting the world of electro-pop with elements of shoegaze and psych, making for music that is equally as engaging as it is accessible. Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck, the duo behind this guise are very open about their influences as well, citing My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, and Jesus & Mary Chain as a few of their favourites. It comes as no surprise then, that their newest offering Chiaroscuro is one that dips its toes into many stylistic waters. While some moments are heady and calming, others display a Crystal Castles-esque wave of strong electro-pop grooves. And though certain moments of the record seem skewed musically, it is all tied together by the soft, ominous crooning of Lindén. Chiaroscuro may not be the most consistently cohesive musical statement in 2014, but it is a very strong one nonetheless.
Judging by the name of the record, both Lindén and Balck are clearly well aware of how many stylistic boundaries their music crosses. Chiaroscuro is a term that is typically used to describe the strong contrast between light and dark elements in paintings, originally used during the Renaissance. The term was often used to describe such contrasts in entire compositions, and it perfectly fits the direction that I Break Horses sophomore LP takes. Dark, icy moments like the album opener “You Burn” are balanced with bright and catchy pop choruses like “Denial”, making for a strong contrast, but one that is easily palatable. I Break Horses constantly remind you of this balance too: like the busiest single on the album “Faith” following the dreary opener “You Burn”. The remainder of Chiaroscuro plays out in a similar fashion, with some tracks appealing to dance floors, while others entice moments of tranquility; and yet there aren’t any moments where the tracks seem disconnected. While Hearts was a strong debut and a promising introduction to the duo, their sound is fully realized on Chiaroscuro. Maria Lindén’s warm voice has the ability to permeate through each various instrumental to create something memorable.
On one of my favourite tracks off Chiaroscuro, the aptly titled “Ascension” Lindén’s voice floats gracefully over the already soaring instrumental to make for one of the easiest songs to get lost in. It’s evident throughout this LP that Lindén has a real knack for composition, especially when considering how many musical avenues this album travels down. It’s not often a producer can craft the deep, ominous swirls of a track like “Medicine Brush” as efficiently as the gentle drones of a song like “Heart to Know”, but Lindén seems to have it down to a T. Another shining moment is seen in “Weight True Words”; wherein Lindén uses some strongly textured production to build up to the duos most grandiose chorus yet. It is a powerfully bright and uplifting track that just so happens to lead into the dreariest moment of the record, the album’s closer “Heart To Know”. It’s a droneful slow-burner that is as captivating as it is heartbreaking through the use of subtle vocal samples, atmospheric synths and, of course, Lindén’s gorgeous voice glowing beneath it. Like taking a journey into the dark unknown, the song slowly fades out, disappearing into the foggy distance.
Though many genres are played with on Chiaroscuro, I Break Horses have a high efficacy in regard to their music. They are open with their musical influences, and this translates directly to the unique sound presented in their compositions. Much like paintings in the Renaissance did, Chiaroscuro presents, well, chiaroscuro. They are aware of how contrasting some of their songs are, and have done a great job connecting them all to create a coherent statement. Like electro-pop contemporaries Glasser, Postiljonen, Au Revoir Simone, and Grimes among others, I Break Horses are paving the way for foreward-thinking pop music in the future, and Chiaroscuro proves it. While I wouldn’t say it’s groundbreaking or monumental in electro-pop, it is still a well-executed selection of tracks and a strong step for this duo. Whether or not I Break Horses was derived from Bill Callahan’s Smog, their music shares a similar emotional intensity with it, which is part of what makes this such a memorable listen. I have a feeling that Chiaroscuro will be making it’s way onto my turntable more than a few times this year.