Photograph by Alex Southam

I Break Horses are Swedish duo Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck, who, as the story goes, met online while both were visiting a medical site catering to hypochondriacs. The two were able to connect and decided to put their worries into music. The resulting catharsis is Hearts. Finding themselves labelmates with Fleet Foxes and Explosions in the Sky on Bella Union, I suspect they feel pretty good right about now.

The first two singles ‘Hearts’ and ‘Winter Beats’ have been available for some time, and being a devout follower of all things shoegaze (typically the floppy haired guitar variety), these offerings had me excited for things to come, even if the noise I Break Horses generates is created electronically. These songs gently layer into an astonishing and repetitive, beautiful sound, with the vocals softly adding to the atmosphere.

Although there are some obvious older guitar-based influences, most notably My Bloody Valentine with Loveless and Ride with Nowhere, I Break Horses still come off sounding fresh and relevant. The comparison with M83 has been made, but I would argue that this material could rival anything Anthony Gonzalez has to offer, especially as he seems to have progressed little since Saturdays = Youth with his latest single.

Hearts as a whole doesn’t sound like the first two singles, but overall the remaining seven songs tend to take on the same formula, shifting and progressing slowly. ‘Wired’ deconstructs itself and becomes somewhat foggy and unrecognizable near the end, while ‘Pulse’ utilizes hazy vocals that swell with beautiful harmonies. I never thought I would use the word ethereal to describe a song entitled ‘Cancer’, but somehow I think this is what I Break Horses had in mind, perhaps trying to understand something that they have both professed to fear greatly. And while the album as a whole could hardly be described as positive, the finale ‘No Way Outro’ certainly ends with a triumphant drum roll.

Overall this is a very successful debut. Although I wish there was more songs sounding like the singles, Hearts will not disappoint anyone looking for a contemporary take on the wall of sound. While some might question the album’s inclusion into the shoegaze genre, I think the term applies not only to the sound, but the process and experience of those creating and performing the music. It still qualifies if you’re staring downwards engrossed in the noise you’re creating, even if in the case of I Break Horses, it’s towards your computer.

I Break Horses – Winter Beats
I Break Horses – Hearts
I Break Horses – Pulse

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— , August 28, 2011    3 Comments
Comments:

Holy shit this album is so good… I’m listening to it and The War on Drugs album a lot, and despite all the hype the latter is getting, I think I Break Horses takes it … If I was pitching it as a film to a major studio, I’d say it was like The XX meets M83 but from Sweden, and that studio would fund the shit out of it.

— Sal Patel, August 30, 2011

Agreed. Not sure what’s going on in Sweden these days as musically it seems like the place to be. Perhaps atoning for some past musical sins? War on Drugs is a good listen, especially the latter half.

— Christian Kraeker, August 31, 2011

Not sure I agree about the M83 comment, but you’re forgiven for introducing me to this gem of an album.

— Daniel Hernandez, September 6, 2011