In the case of I Break Horses, it’s the Swedish duo’s second album, the titular notion manifesting in melancholic disco: all moody atmospherics and glittering synths. And as everybody knows, the best kind of pop music balances emotional lyrics with upbeat production. It’s something the Swedes do incredibly well – look no further than Robyn’s seminal Dancing On My Own.
That said, ‘Chiaroscuro’ is also the antithesis of the duo’s debut, ‘Hearts’. If that album was full of upbeat, dreamy shoegaze, then this is its nightmarish follow-up. Gone are the indie guitars of the first album in favour of icy electronics, the sound less expansive but no less intricate. It certainly leans towards the darker side of chiaroscuro, with its brooding production, abrasive beats and Maria Lindén’s haunting vocals, her lyrics frequently obscured beneath rich textures as if being swallowed up by the surrounding cacophony.
Still, a minor key is no barrier for a pop aesthetic and the duo certainly flex that muscle here. Faith may whir menacingly with its alien like melodies, but its hooky bass doesn’t stray too far from the dancefloor. Even the darkest tracks like Berceuse and Disclosure are littered with sparkling light and memorable riffs; Ascension, by contrast, sounds positively angelic. Denial and Weigh True Words are the closest to true pop songs though - the former having a more laidback beat and a soaring modulation in its final moments; the latter featuring clattering percussive effects that lead into its expansive chorus. On the flipside, Medicine Brush and Heart To Know have their merits but at seven minutes long stray too far into shoegaze territory and outstay their welcome.
“Not more Swedish melancholic disco” I hear you cry. In truth, ‘Chiaroscuro’ most closely resembles the work of Austra or Grimes – both of which are Canadian. Besides, there may be plenty of moody electronic music around, but I Break Horses are very good at what they do – this album is not to be dismissed.
* Weigh True Words
Listen: 'Chiaroscuro' is available now.