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Hearts
I Break Horses Hearts
Released 19 August 2011
Label Bella Union
Length 40:19
Genre Alternative
Website www.ibreakhorses.se
71

The twisted mix of the lush and the distorted has had a long history in the realm of alternative music. At its heights it’s a force of nature like in the hands of sonic assault merchants My Bloody Valentine however it’s a template that is frequently used to cover over inept song writing. Swedish duo I Break Horses deliver evidence of both extremes on their debut album Hearts released on Bella Union.

With a name coming from a possible Smog reference, Stockholm based Maria Linden and Fredrik Balck’s sound couldn’t be more removed from the wry Americana of Bill Callaghan. 'Winter Beats' is a sparkling arpeggio driven track with breathy lo-fi vocals turned up to a quiet max. This is buoyant Indie Rock with the pounding drums emphasising the surprisingly heavy nature of the act. If you can’t hear the MBV influence, M83 is there in abundance. It’s a wonderful start and augurs well, it would seem, for the rest of the album especially when followed by the intricate aural textures of lead single 'Hearts'. Throbbing beats and murky synth play loosely with the vocal which is even more ethereal than on the opener. The bar is raised when the distortion pedals ramp up the noise. The sound is all encompassing and perfectly showcases the band’s fine abilities to mix the beauty and the beast elements of early Shoegaze. 'Wired' carries on along the same lines as the previous tracks. The optimistic synth chords are all very indie disco but within the obvious joy of the music there nags a feeling of superficiality about it. At the same time who cares when a song like this can reach moments of high drama and textural change so subtly it’s a headphone’s dream?

Despite the title 'I Kill Your Baby, Love' the lyrics of Linden can’t really be interpreted for a couple of reasons: the low mixed singing and tellingly because there isn’t much going on anyway. Although the words don’t guide, interestingly the woozy dirge like synth is indicative of warm comfort than the morbidity it may have initially suggested. There is definitely something acute in the mentality of Scandinavians that can produce such acts that deal in pretty and shadowy tones all at once so effortlessly. An almost commonplace dark beauty is evident in such bands like The Knife and now I Break Horses.

'Pulse' flattens the guitar distortion and approaches a more traditional Indie Pop platform. The vocals are in deep focus but again they don’t suggest much. It’s all very ‘nice’ but it’s also very samey.The crux of the problem is that however many textures and changes the band put to the sound it doesn’t sidetrack you from the glaring lack of depth to some of the songs. Not quite wallpaper but you would be looking for more substance especially after such an exciting start.

'Cancer' plays with frozen palaces of synth and repetitive guitars cycles once more. It’s less euphoric than the rest of the album and all the better for it.

Like all good and unfortunately bad pop music, it is impossible to ignore certain hooks and in this case impossible to dislike the formal  layering of lush/heavy patterns that Linden and Balck have invested in the album especially on such tracks like 'Load Your Eyes' with its 8-bit approach and scattergun drums.

The penultimate track 'Empty Bottles' is again worthy but doesn’t have much spark to it. The atmospheric guitar sound is ghostly and the bass propels the number but the ‘Big Music’ they are trying to achieve is all too tepid. It’s more like a chilly breeze than a storm of sound. This aim is fortunately achieved on the closer 'No Way Outro' that evokes the angelic gravitas of Cocteau Twins in its vocals as well as the celestial power of GY!BE in the galloping drum crescendo.

However the repetitiveness of the approach and the somewhat superficiality of many of the tracks makes I Break Horses’ debut ultimately a little disappointing. The expectations that rose because of the opening tracks weren’t entirely met. That said the album is extremely listenable and likable all the same. This is definitely one to put on the headphones and dream the night away.

- Tim Gannon