Release Date: Aug 30, 2011
Record label: Bella Union
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
The title may be misleading: if there are hearts on this stirring debut they're the blood-racing, pulse-quickening kind rather than any idly-doodled kitsch. Stockholm's Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck make heady, sumptuously textured soundscapes that pulse with feeling. They also wear their musical crushes on their sleeve: the middle section of the propulsive, shimmering "Wired", for example, sounds like an alternative version of M83's "Couleurs".
For a pair of self-confessed hypochondriacs, Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck make music of such courage and hopefulness you'd think the condition was, y'know, all in their heads. Perhaps the finest album to emerge from the nu-gazer scene in several years, lyrically I Break Horses' Hearts might be all terminal sniffles and suspect lumps but sonically the Swedes operate boldly and dramatically, meeting head-on with the great wilderness, otherwise known as your Twenties. It's as if their music is where they take flight, transforming into the fearless super-versions of their meek selves, Handi Andies be damned.
Swedish duo I Break Horses (Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck) take their cues from shoegaze greats, at times sounding like the younger siblings of Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, and Ride. But far from a promising, yet diminutive relative—simply aping their older family members' accomplishments—the band owns their influences on every track of their impressive debut album. .
I Break Horses' name tells me they listen to Smog. Their debut LP, Hearts, does not. Late-period Smog-- and, by extension, Bill Callahan's solo albums-- are often built upon earthy instrumentation, understated vocals, emotional stoicism, and a wry sense of humor. All of these qualities are absent from Hearts.
2011 has seen little in the way of shoegaze, but Swedish duo I Break Horses – Maria Lindén with help from Fredrik Balck – are here, twenty years on, emulating the dreamy FX-fuzz textures that made a generation of critics fall in love with the genre. But as with any shoegaze release since, well, Loveless, I can only go so far without mentioning My Bloody Valentine. You can’t deny how derivative this record is, but I Break Horses certainly approximate their influences with gusto.
Pitched somewhere between synthed-up '80s mood-out and electronic-infused shoegaze, the Swedish duo I Break Horses may have a slightly off-kilter name, but Hearts is a fine, if often derivative, debut album, a classic instance of a band knowing who and what they love, but not to the point of making it their own. Part of the advantage of time has been how the embrace, however casual, of dance culture in a broad sense has played into swooning harmonies and feedback overload, something My Bloody Valentine were always keen on embracing. Given the duo's clear love of that band -- opening song "Winter Beats" almost turns into more of an MBV song as it goes -- it's little surprise to find it here, too, along with everyone and everything from New Order to Ulrich Schnauss; however, unlike an act such as School of Seven Bells, they have yet to galvanize their debt into something strikingly distinct.
Stockholm duo’s debut is a nu-gaze collection which both whispers and shouts. Chris Roberts 2011 Scandinavian chill-wave (nee nu-gaze) is hardly an undersubscribed genre. It’s also one that’s a pain to write about, reliant for its power as it is on sonics alone. You can’t hear the drowned-out words here, and sense that even if you could they’re not important.