Swedish duo Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck aka I Break Horses released one of the great undiscovered gems of 2011 with their debut album Hearts. It was a nigh on perfect little album, mixing the dreamy electronica of M83 with the languid shoegaze of My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive. The result was an intoxicating, heady brew and unsurprisingly, the response from music critics was universally positive.
Follow up Chiaroscuro marks a massive leap forward for the duo in terms of their overall sound and signals a significant shift in emphasis; this is a more dance oriented album with the dreamy shoegaze influences of their debut pushed a little further to the background. There is a stronger kinship now with acts like Crystal Castles, the Chromatics and Twin Shadow - the music of lonely, empty dance floors, laced with a little late night melancholy.
Chiaroscuro also has something that the debut album lacked - three, big, big songs that are obvious singles, each with the potential to garner significant radio play. In 'Faith' 'Denial' and 'Weigh True Words' they have fashioned three of their best tracks to date - melodic, hook laden monsters with that glossy, commercial sheen that could see I Break Horses make the leap from bit part indie players to mainstream success without breaking stride.
The rest of the album showcases their darker side - the excellent 'Medicine Brush' and the creepy, insidious 'Berceuse' hark back to the synth horror soundtrack work of 70s director/composer John Carpenter. 'You Burn' is cloaked in a deliciously dark mystique - singer Maria Lindén's breathy delivery swaddled in reverb against a backdrop of their trademark icy synth lines. Finishing with the pulsing, eerie eight minutes of 'Heart To Know', I Break Horses make it abundantly clear that this is no mainstream sell out, and that there is another side to the band that they are not ready to let go just yet.
With Chiaroscuro, I Break Horses have parted the veil just a little - the hazy shimmer of their debut has given way to a sleeker, more alluring incarnation and the view is equally impressive. A revelation.
Review by Paul Page