I BREAK HORSES is the musical project led by Maria Lindén. From her Stockholm base, the Swedish artist delivered an extraordinary debut album in the shape of ‘Hearts’, released by Bella Union in August 2011. Forward two years, and the arrival of an eagerly awaited follow-up, entitled Chiaroscuro, is upon us. The latest chapter in I Break Horses’ much celebrated songbook is everything fans could wish for and more. In the words of Lindén: “My only aim when starting to write this album was to ignore any possible second album expectations.” The result is a more confident and evolved sound with a more dramatic expression.
With ‘Chiaroscuro’, I Break Horses have created a fully-realised and utterly captivating tour-de-force. New sonic terrain is compellingly explored by Lindén, where electronic beats and synth-pop soundscapes replace the more shoegaze based-sound of their debut. As a result, there is a marked immediacy and directness to the new songs. As Lindén states: “I found myself writing almost all the sketches on the piano this time.” The music was recorded, mixed and produced by Lindén, with first lp wordsmith Fredrik Balck providing lyrical ideas from the images he derived from the music. Finally, Lindén and Balck would finish the lyrics together.
The title of ‘Chiaroscuro’ – meaning “light-dark” – serves as the perfect embodiment of Lindén’s sonic creations, where an atmosphere and mood is created that evokes innermost feelings and thoughts residing beyond the surface reality of the material world. Affecting ballads such as ‘Heart To Know’ and ‘You Burn’ are wrapped in fragile beauty. ‘Denial’ and ‘Medicine Brush’ are sublime synth-pop odysseys whose pulses guide you to new horizons. ‘Faith’ is a dance anthem complete with hypnotic beats, swirling synths and the mesmerising looped vocals of Lindén. “I let myself write both the happiest songs but also the saddest, and then I put them together”, states Lindén. This arrangement of light and dark forms the essence of ‘Chiaroscuro’.
‘Ascension’ is rooted in a gorgeous 80s synth-pop sound, where Lindén’s vocals melt into the lush sonic tapestry. The song deals with love and forgiveness. An irresistible groove lies at the heart of ‘Disclosure’ where a divine purity is distilled in the intricate array of instrumentation. ‘You Burn’ is perhaps the album’s centrepiece, as well as being the opening track, where a brooding darkness envelops the surrounding human space. The delicate piano chords drift magnificently amidst Linden’s searching lyrics. I Break Horses are one of those rare bands capable of conjuring up raw emotion through a sound that is ultimately something life-affirming.