I Break Horses is the musical partnership of Maria Linden and Frederick Balck who are based in Stockholm, Sweden. Signed to Bella Union their debut album Hearts was released in 2011 and is an interesting mix of layered Indie rock and Art Pop synthesizers. In 2014 Chiaroscuro was released expanding on the themes of their debut release, but adding a productive polish to the overall sound.
On Warnings, I Break Horses third album, a completely different approach was taken by Maria Linden. At first, Maria would watch her favourite films, with the sound turned off, while composing her own scores to accompany the visuals. Slowly these soundtracks morphed into songs. Maria said about the process;
“It wasn’t until I felt an urge to add vocals and lyrics that I realised I was making a new I Break Horses album.” It appears that the making of Warnings was a long and sometimes painful journey. A process spanning five years and various studios. With crashed hard drives, leading to the loss of two years of work! Writing new material then erasing new material and finally recording most of the album, by herself, at home. Five years of drama that could have filled a film script of its own.
From the opening moments of Warnings, it's clear the new direction is influenced by the drama and grandeur of film scores. The album opens with “Turn.” A nine-minute synth-driven monster about the end of a relationship. The song swirls and swoops in a woozy waltz-like way, with Maria’s lazy, almost drooling vocal style, perfectly suited to such subject matter. Lyrically, slightly bitter, slightly bitchy and slightly sorrowful, a delightful combination. “Turn” sets the scene for Warnings and the journey, almost story, to come over the following eleven songs. It feels very much like a Molly Ringwald cult film, viewed on VHS.
On “Silence” Maria drifts into a more melancholic mood, using a driven drum loop and layers of pads to achieve a wistfully sorrowful sound. On “Neon Lights” Maria, effectively and effortlessly slips into a pure 80’s influence synth-pop vibe. With “I Live At Night” there’s a welcome return to I Break Horses earlier sounding material, with a few guitar hooks and licks. This adds depth to the melody & strangely, a more haunting quality. “Baby You Have Travelled For Miles Without Love In Your Eyes” has a certain electronic, twisted lullaby quality enforced by a surprisingly catchy chorus. “Death Angel” is decidedly cinematic and refreshingly dark. This would be the part in the film where Molly Ringwald is walking down dimly lit streets with tears flowing freely.
There are interludes throughout Warnings that play around with soundscape ideas and themes. Often this can distract from an albums emotional feel and flow. Linden has managed to balance the experimental electronica, with imaginative song structures so fortunately, the instrumentals don’t sound like extra padding or album fillers. Warnings ends with the vocoder drenched “Depression Tourist.” A slight anti-climax to an album that flows neatly from track to track.
If you’re a fan of I Break Horses early albums then you’ll definitely be a fan of the new more electronic sound that Maria has headed in. It’s an album that has a thematic sound running throughout. At some points, unfortunately, the theme wanders off course and gets lost, only to find the path again and gently slaps you in the face to grab back your attention.