REVIEW album Old Subbacultcha Old Subbacultcha

I Break Horses serve up another darkly hewn mini masterpiece

Old Subbacultcha

Old Subbacultcha

Breaking horses and breaking hearts, Chiaroscuro is a classic 'after hours' record that packs more of an emotional punch than almost any other electronic 'pop' album i've heard this decade.


I Break Horses – Chiaroscuro (20/01/14 via Bella Union)

In 2014 we're up to our necks in electro-pop, to the extent that we might as well be living through the 80's, neon haircuts and all. As a result, I admit to feeling more than a little fatigued by the notion of 'yet another' darkly tinged electronic pop act from continental Europe. But then, The Knife are less an electro-pop act now and more of a performance art troupe and although Chvrches gave us one of last years most consistent and rewarding pop albums, their 'darkness' felt more than a little like mere eye shadow. The black rings around the eyes of sonic Swedes Maria Linden and Fredrik Balck (the duo who comprise 'I Break Horses') on the other hand are real, and there are more than enough hooks dangling from their blacker than black tendrils to catch even the most jaded electro hipster.

Take the opening 'You Burn'. The descending piano chords and Linden's spare, echoing vocals cast a gloomy shadow against Blade Runner synths and heartbeat kick drums, but there's something so catchy about it. Something lurking just beneath the surface. I might not be able to see it soundtracking a triumphant reality TV montage anytime soon but could I see it underlining a particularly nasty break-up in Hollyoaks? You better believe I could! Last years breakthrough single 'Faith' is the bait here though and it's very tasty bait indeed. This is a song that sounds like it was custom made to play on repeat at a futuristic strip-club where all the models have been replaced by robotic, PVC gimps. That's a good thing of course. The aggressively catchy chorus helps bury the hook and what you're left with is a song that wouldn't have sounded out of place on The Knife's 'Deep Cuts' album. 'Denial' too is a classic, heavily reverberated indie disco beauty with the sultry Linden offering forlorn vocals over tight, 808 beats and a wash of synth pads. This relatively straight-forward electro-pop is very much the exception here though as most of the remaining 6 tracks instead offer up a sort of shoe-gaze variant with a dry-ice undercurrent that is most absorbing. 'Medicin Brush' and 'Heart to Know' for example both clip past the 7 minute mark and do so with aplomb. The former might start off sounding like a Terminator theme song pastiche before it finally finds its feet as the bastard offspring of Jean Michelle Jarre, the Cocteau Twins and Caberet Voltaire but the latter is just one of the most haunting pieces of music I've heard in months. Sparse without being dull and creepy without being campy, it's a genuinely odd and defiantly sad closer that underlines everything that came before it in a rusted black. The whole album plays almost as a love letter to the night and in that respect I'd be more willing to compare it to the industrial dub-step of 'Burial' than any more obvious artists. Chiaroscuro (“Chi Row Scoo Row” I'm guessing?) is a classic 'after hours' record that deserves to find it's rightful place in the blackest and loneliest of hearts. It's certainly found it's place in mine.