I Break Horses – ‘Warnings’ review: cinematic Swedish duo trace the line between darkness and the light

Chief songwriter Maria Lindén and percussionist Fredrik Balck evoke vivid, noirish narratives that are well-set to their masterful, atmospheric music

Maria Lindén is a self-confessed control freak. The chief songwriter of Swedish duo I Break Horses, who’s joined by Fredrik Balck on drums, has here released her first album in six years. The record has, she’s said, endured a troubled gestation that involved “several studios, collaborations that didn’t work out, a crashed hard drive with about two years of work” and “writing new material again instead of trying to repair it”.

The fruits of Lindén’s labour may have been hard-won, but they’re all the sweeter for it. ‘Warnings’ is a rich record that borrows from the band’s early electrogaze sound (2011’s ‘Hearts’) and the crystal synth-pop of their second record (2014’s ‘Chiaroscuro’). Album three, though, cranks up the experiment and drama. The collection is marked by the tension and release of the titular warnings, which range from the narrator realising that a lover is emotionally unavailable (lullaby opener ‘Turn’) to a young person’s tragic decision to end their life (‘Death Engine’). This vividness makes even more sense when you learn Lindén wrote the songs while watching films on mute.

‘Baby You Have Travelled For Miles Without Love In Your Eyes’ and ‘Death Engine’ contain some of ‘Warnings’’ most filmic moments. On the former Balck and Lindén work together to fuse warbled analogue synths and fibrous bass in building towards an anthemic climax about a nomadic addict set on self-destruction. “As you poison your veins, nobody’s gonna hear you cry,” Lindén intones. ‘Death Engine’, meanwhile, sees her adopt Sinéad O’Connor’s tortured tone as she recalls a close friend’s suicide attempt. Slow-mo beats and Mellotron burrs tread a fine line between hope and horror. This friend survived; another might not.

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The sedate ‘I Live At Night’ details a depression that keeps one bound to the dark hours. As with buzzy Krautrock number ‘Neon Lights’, the song retreads the concept of dark versus light, which the duo explored on their last album. A languorous drum machine beat drags reverby acoustics, walking bass and musty piano notes over lyrics with which Lindén admits: “I live at night / ‘Cause I’m afraid of the day”. It all sounds as if unspooled from an old tape. Lindén’s seems to be at the most vulnerable she’s ever been, as if we’ve stumbled upon a forgotten diary entry.

Album stand-out ‘The Prophet’, which hangs on industrial trip-hop beats and menacing pitch-bent synths, also touches on the interplay between and light. “You’re calling for something to believe in”, Lindén sings to a despondent figure, offering to be their “guiding light”. She strains her voice at the thrillingly higher end of her register as celestial harmonies loop and layer.

For all its plus points, ‘Warnings’ does feature some missteps, largely in its numerous field-like recording interludes (‘larm’, ‘denlillapaseavlycka’ and ‘absolutamollpunkten’) and grating vocoder-addled closer ‘Depression Tourist’. Otherwise, though, ‘Warnings’ is a brooding, beautiful contemplation of life’s flaws. With this album, Lindén and Balck have strengthened their mastery of atmospheric music.

Details

Release date: May 8

Record label: Bella Union

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