Stockholm duo’s debut is a nu-gaze collection which both whispers and shouts.
Chris Roberts 2011
Scandinavian chill-wave (nee nu-gaze) is hardly an undersubscribed genre. It’s also one that’s a pain to write about, reliant for its power as it is on sonics alone. You can’t hear the drowned-out words here, and sense that even if you could they’re not important. So do I Break Horses stand apart from the endless torrent of Nordic sound-distorters? Just about. They offer beauty and darkness, elevation and noir, and if they’re intent on eschewing personality, they pulse with plenty of presence.
The Stockholm duo – Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck – operate in unconventional manner at the coalface. Lindén writes the music, Balck the lyrics: but Linden sings them. They seem to agonise over how to keep everything blurred, foggy, pleasingly warped. Genre influences that in 20 years have gone from startling to predictable abound: MBV, Cocteaus, a dash of Mary Chain – you don’t need us to recite the list. It’s all treated synth-beds, echoing guitars and spurts of crashing volume. It whispers or it shouts. What then, if anything, will win Hearts a place in your heart?
Perhaps the fact that they try so hard. Despite the time-honoured formulae, there’s rarely a spell where the duo aren’t endeavouring to make magic. They don’t always get there, but you admire the stern-faced dedication. I Kill Love, Baby! is intimate, hungry. Cancer (those titles!) begins with a hum of churchy guitars and key stabs, the ennui-laden voice pitched midway between Hope Sandoval and Elizabeth Fraser. Big drums come in: you brace yourself for a blast of Cults’ Spector-esque derivations but it never quite happens. The tease is rather attractive. Winter Beats is the wasted skeleton of an upbeat MGMT hit covered in deep, paralysing snow (that’s a good thing), while the title-track, segueing directly out of its looping bleeps, surges in with a lick of Vangelis before almost breaking into a bustle of Neu!. Again, it never quite does, and again there’s something alluring about that blank-canvas vacancy.
No moulds are broken here, but the occasional breeze drummed up by the couple’s galloping minds is in many ways cool.