Bella Union – 2020

I Break Horses is the indie-pop project of Swedish singer-songwriter Maria Lindén, taking it’s name from the song of the same title by Bill Callahan. Releasing her first album ‘Hearts’ way back in 2011, and follow up ‘Chiaroscuro’ in 2014. She’s now returned after nearly 6 years with her 3rd LP ‘Warnings’.

Embracing the full dream pop sound, ‘Warnings’ is like a hazy dream of pure bliss and psychedelia, and could be the soundtrack to many of life’s wondrous moments. It has an other-worldly feel about it, almost as if Lindén’s voice is guiding you on a great journey through your subconscious. It feels raw with its lo-fi production techniques and it evokes a nostalgic sound, whilst still feeling modern with its themes and lyrics.

Opener ‘Turn’ is a joyful resolute of sound that starts with a slow clustered beat, gently adding layers of synthesisers, xylophone melodies and vocal harmonies. Over its 9 minute run length it slowly changes through different phases whilst still keeping the initial ideas in view. It invites you into the bright and cinematic world this album creates, and never feels dragged out or overstretched. According to Lindén a lot of this album was written whilst watching films without the sound on, creating her own soundtrack. This comes into play in the final act of the song with the slow violins and string arrangements carefully bowing it out.

The cinematic feel makes a return on the track ‘Absolutamollpunkten’, which translates to “Absolute minor point, or Absolute Zero”. It summons a great wave of synthesisers that carry through a low pass filter, slowly detuning and becoming more distant as the song progresses, almost as if you’re drowning. Similar to some of the instrumentation on Weyes Blood’s titanic rising from last year.

Similarities between some of Lindén’s contemporaries are sown throughout this album. Like the track “I’ll Be The Death Of You”, which bathes in 80’s sentimentality. From its pounding arpeggiated beat, to its chorus filled piano hits it wouldn’t feel out of place on Bat For Lashes latest release ‘Lost Girls’. There’s also flairs of label-mates Beach House throughout most of the album, with it’s etherial feel and spaced out instrumentation. Showcased the most on the track ‘Baby You Have Travelled For Miles Without Love In Your Eyes’, as the synths are slowly layered over a punchy drum machine and the deep bass brings a driving groove to the sound. It also features one of the best vocal performances on the album, coated initially in small amount of phaser it progresses to these heavenly layered vocals that surround your ears like a warm breeze. It’s no surprise the album gained this feel as frequent Beach House producer Chris Coady was working his magic behind the scenes on this project.

Then there’s the closer track ‘Depression Tourist’, as song about the eventual breakdown of a relationship. “We hold on to our dreams, Our broken dreams, To keep our promises, At Heart, we’re a broken team”. It’s the only track that is all vocals, except they’re being processed through dozens of vocoders and pitch-shifters to create a robotic narration of the story being told. A very similar sound to that used by Bon Iver on many of their tracks, especially ‘Woods’ from the ‘Blood Bank’ EP.

There are moments on the album that can overstay their welcome just slightly, like the track ‘The Prophet’ which at nearly 6 minutes doesn’t offer a huge amount of progression past the repeating synthesiser melodies and chorus changes. But what this album does well in its instrumentation is create a textured atmosphere of sound and then will at times, step back and let you float around in this sound, allowing you to take in all the layers. One of the best examples of this is on the track ‘Death Engine’. It’s almost split into two parts over its near 8 minute run length, the first builds up through soft synthesiser tones and celestial vocals over a scattered and loose drum beat. Then it transitions to a glistening melody that carries through to the end of the song, with the layers slowly peeling away until just a vocal harmony is left.

Within this world building there’s also the interludial tracks ‘Larm’ and ‘Den Lilla Påse Av Lycka’. Adding atmospheric sounds, almost vaporwave like vocals and ambient samples into the expansive sound palette of the album help solidify the roots of these songs into the real world, whilst living in their own magical one.

It’s a strong return for Lindén after over half a decade away, but one that proves her sound is as contemporary and nostalgic as ever. An album full of exploratory landscapes to get lost in and a harmonious voice to guide you along the way.

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