Album Reviews - Reviews

I Break Horses – Chiaroscuro


Chiaroscuro, an Italian juxtaposition of the words light and dark, has historically been a dramatic and influential style of presentation, particularly in the classical art world; it is also the theme upon which I Break Horses’ second album is based. Having seen success with their first release Hearts which netted them touring slots with Sigur Rós and M83, the excitement had been building in the minds of many prior to this release – they were a new band that many critics couldn’t help but fall for. The new record is a series of anxious, techno-infused pieces, with a strong bent for distorted synth chords and vocals dripping in reverb.

It’s a fresh sound for the band, but hardly groundbreaking – bands like Chvrches and The Naked & Famous have managed to turn this sound into the liberation frequency of the 2010s, while countless others have taken it into darker, more experimental territory. Chiaroscuro comes across as a series of highs and lows, rarely holding attention for any longer than two songs in a row. While none of the songs are criminally poor, some just don’t warrant any space in the listener’s memory. Tracks like ‘Ascension’ and ‘Berceuse’, for example, lack any singular exciting component. The main problem with Chiaroscuro however isn’t within the tracks themselves, but within the context of the album. Many of the tracks here convey the lauded light/ dark theme in standalone segments, but there is no context in which they sit comfortably side by side. It sometimes feels as though there has been a communication breakdown somewhere in the writing process – more often than not, light and dark have been translated into minimal and dense.

There are moments where the group really achieves. ‘Medicine Brush’ is a dramatic peak in the middle of the album; ambitious in its scope at 7 minutes long, it feels consistently fresh despite relying on only a couple of sonic ideas. ‘Weigh True Words’ is a master class in electronic percussion, with a driven Maria Lindén giving one of her best performances in the group’s history. Elsewhere, ‘Disclosure”s repetition and rhythmic stutter work to great effect, and overall these percussive and rhythmic elements are responsible for most of the record’s successes.

The track ‘Faith’ stands out due to its sheer simplicity; there’s a strong note of M83’s ‘Midnight City’ in its big, sprawling synth lines. It’s the most memorable moment on the album, which is a shame, because even then it feels like I Break Horses haven’t pushed enough in any direction – the theme is half hearted, the new sound direction neither melodic enough to be catchy nor atmospheric enough to intrigue. Its stylized to the teeth, and produced brilliantly, but as a whole falls short of the expectations set by their debut. Aaron Hamilton